Photograph by Scott Suchman.
Among the many things Ferhat Yalcin has pined for since leaving Istanbul a decade ago is a fish sandwich called balik ekmek, the specialty of the weather-beaten mongers who set up shop in and around the Galata and Atatürk bridges. Grilled mackerel is the star, slipped into a crusty roll and dressed with fresh greens and onions. It's one of the world's great and enduring street foods.
A former general manager at Tom Power's restaurant Corduroy, Yalcin grew weary of longing for the taste of his youth and, late last year, decided to do something about it. The happy result is Fishnet, an 11-table, order-at-the-counter operation that subscribes to a code of freshness and quality.
The daily catch depends on what Yalcin can source from the market. Of late, the lineup has included wild king salmon, hake, bluefish, mahi-mahi, and calamari. Yalcin and his two-man crew in the kitchen either grill or fry your selection, slather it with any of four house-made sauces, and slip it inside a bun dressed with lettuce and tomato.
The thick, meaty hake ($11) is one of those fish that benefit from being fried. It emerges golden and crunchy and is elevated with a smear of Turkish tartar sauce (crushed walnuts account for the crunch). Salmon ($11) is best on the grill, hit with a lively chili-stoked aïoli. I was skeptical of fried calamari on a bun, but it works. A lobster roll ($16) is perhaps obligatory for fish houses these days, but it doesn't taste like it here. There's not a lot of meat, but it's sweet and smartly presented in a fresh tarragon mayo.
Fries aren't included in the price, nor is the coleslaw, but both are worth getting. The fries are hand-cut and actually taste of potato. The slaw is light on mayo and heavy on snap.
The best thing is the most surprising: fish sticks made with long strips of hake ($7). Light and crunchy, they're so superior to the frozen logs that they deserve a different name. I ordered them for my young son and ended up stealing from his plate.
I was initially crazy about a Provençal-style fish soup ($6), built from a stock made on the premises. Early on, it included trimmed bits of fish, but the last two renditions I had featured just cubed potatoes.
Another quibble: Yalcin has gone from a ciabatta roll to a kaiser roll and back again (but a smaller ciabatta this time). There's still too much roll for my taste, though the quality of the bread is excellent.
Yalcin is quick to point out that Fishnet is a work in progress, but he seems intent on holding his quick-serve cafe to some of the same standards of a three-star operation. That's great news for bargain-minded diners, who are certain to develop some pinings of their own.
This article appears in the March 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.