The best thing on the menu at Tiger Fork (922 N St., NW), the Hong Kong–inspired restaurant in Shaw, was born of an accident. Chef Irvin Van Oordt was tinkering with a short-rib dish, but it just wasn’t turning out. The sauce, though—a mix of broad-bean paste, soy, lots of garlic, and shaoxing wine conjuring the flavors of China’s Chengdu region—was a keeper. It just happened to pair beautifully with another plate he had in mind, a fried whole fish served in a dramatic curl.
• Van Oordt starts with a whole dorade—a richly flavored, white-fleshed fish—that’s farm-raised in Turkey. He filets the fish, slices it into nugget-size pieces, then marinates it in mushroom soy, which adds “super-umami, deep, intense, no-MSG-needed flavor,” he says. “It’s like crack.” The dorade gets dredged in cornstarch and rice flour, a mix that results in an extra-crispy exterior, then is double-fried.
• He throws the head-on skeleton into the deep-fryer, too: “Customers are paying for the nose-to-tail aspect.” Plus, the cheeks taste as luscious as pork belly.
• A hot wok gets a splash of charcoal oil (“Our signature thing,” says Van Oordt), which the kitchen makes by infusing rice-bran oil with hot embers of coal. In go Chinese eggplant, Chinese celery, then the Chengdu sauce and the fish. The toss gives it an extra hit of smokiness.
• The fish is reassembled in its skeleton, set on the plate, and spooned with the vegetables. The reason for the swooping presentation is as practical as it is aesthetic: Picking at a flat fish with chopsticks can be messy. Still, people keep showing the social-media-averse Van Oordt their phones, saying, “Look at your fish—it’s on Instagram.”
This article appears in the June 2017 issue of Washingtonian.