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Poke salad trumps my best intentions

Hawaiian specialty wins me over in Carlsbad.

The sashimi platter here is what you might call enormous. Pelly's Fish Market & Cafe.
The sashimi platter here is what you might call enormous. Pelly's Fish Market & Cafe.
Place

Pelly's Fish Market & Cafe

7110 Avenida Encinas, Carlsbad

Nothing flashy about this storefront.

For a quarter century, Pelly's Fish Market & Café has been serving fresh seafood out of a shopping center in Carlsbad. I've known about it for about three days. Figuring I had a lot to catch up on, I dropped by for lunch with a couple of friends and tried what I could. Long story short, I doubt it'll be 25 years before I go back.

I took a long look inside the glass counter and thought the halibut and Chilean sea bass looked especially good. For 12 or 13 bucks, my plan was to try one or the other in a grilled sandwich, by way of comparison to similar shops around town. Problem is, I have a number of weaknesses when it comes to seafood. One of them is poke salad.

Take away the sunshine, waves, and rainbows, and poke might be the only reason left to visit Hawaii, and I would still do so. I've searched in vain for good poke on this side of the Pacific and have usually wound up shrugging my way through boring imitations of the raw fish, scallion, ginger and sesame oil dish.

Take a good look inside the counter.

The Pelly's poke gets it pretty right. I spotted it in that case and it changed the course of my lunch. They don't skimp on the sesame or the ginger, mixed with tender cubes of ahi just large enough to handle the strong flavor combination. A little more spice would've really won me over, but I'm still a little miffed that I live too far from Pelly's to make it a regular treat.

At about $24 per pound, I went for six bucks' worth and supplemented my lunch with another weakness: a fish taco. Again, I wanted badly to try that halibut. However, their tacos this day were shark by default at 5 bucks. An extra fifty cents gets your choice of fish, but I can dig a good shark taco, and sticking to the chef's choice seemed like a good way to make up for not trying a sandwich.

As with most seafood counters, I found the fish to be better than the taco. It wasn't that I found too much fault with the cabbage or tortilla, or that the salsa fresca lacked heat, but these minor flaws altogether didn't serve the concept of a taco so much as provide a vessel for the shark. To that end, I doused it with plenty of Cholula and the tender yet meaty flesh went down pretty nice, though it might have tasted better eaten better before the poke than after.

Shark taco plate and poke salad. Pelly's Fish Market & Cafe.

One of my friends got the $18 sashimi platter, and my eyes just about popped out of my head when I saw how big it was — ten pieces each of yellowtail and ahi tuna. I tried a bit of the hamachi and it tasted right, though it did make me appreciate the skillful knifework of a good sushi chef. Then again, that knifework never sells so generously as an under-a-buck-per-piece of quality fish.

Last up, I did get my halibut, in a way. My other friend took a chance on a smoked halibut dip — basically a seasoned cream cheese and fish spread, which we smeared on sourdough bread and savored mightily, ruining our palates for the afternoon. There's something to this Pelly's place, and apparently has been for a long time. I'm told their crab cakes routinely sell out, which means I'll need to spend another long lunch continuing to catch up on their menu.

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The sashimi platter here is what you might call enormous. Pelly's Fish Market & Cafe.
The sashimi platter here is what you might call enormous. Pelly's Fish Market & Cafe.
Place

Pelly's Fish Market & Cafe

7110 Avenida Encinas, Carlsbad

Nothing flashy about this storefront.

For a quarter century, Pelly's Fish Market & Café has been serving fresh seafood out of a shopping center in Carlsbad. I've known about it for about three days. Figuring I had a lot to catch up on, I dropped by for lunch with a couple of friends and tried what I could. Long story short, I doubt it'll be 25 years before I go back.

I took a long look inside the glass counter and thought the halibut and Chilean sea bass looked especially good. For 12 or 13 bucks, my plan was to try one or the other in a grilled sandwich, by way of comparison to similar shops around town. Problem is, I have a number of weaknesses when it comes to seafood. One of them is poke salad.

Take away the sunshine, waves, and rainbows, and poke might be the only reason left to visit Hawaii, and I would still do so. I've searched in vain for good poke on this side of the Pacific and have usually wound up shrugging my way through boring imitations of the raw fish, scallion, ginger and sesame oil dish.

Take a good look inside the counter.

The Pelly's poke gets it pretty right. I spotted it in that case and it changed the course of my lunch. They don't skimp on the sesame or the ginger, mixed with tender cubes of ahi just large enough to handle the strong flavor combination. A little more spice would've really won me over, but I'm still a little miffed that I live too far from Pelly's to make it a regular treat.

At about $24 per pound, I went for six bucks' worth and supplemented my lunch with another weakness: a fish taco. Again, I wanted badly to try that halibut. However, their tacos this day were shark by default at 5 bucks. An extra fifty cents gets your choice of fish, but I can dig a good shark taco, and sticking to the chef's choice seemed like a good way to make up for not trying a sandwich.

As with most seafood counters, I found the fish to be better than the taco. It wasn't that I found too much fault with the cabbage or tortilla, or that the salsa fresca lacked heat, but these minor flaws altogether didn't serve the concept of a taco so much as provide a vessel for the shark. To that end, I doused it with plenty of Cholula and the tender yet meaty flesh went down pretty nice, though it might have tasted better eaten better before the poke than after.

Shark taco plate and poke salad. Pelly's Fish Market & Cafe.

One of my friends got the $18 sashimi platter, and my eyes just about popped out of my head when I saw how big it was — ten pieces each of yellowtail and ahi tuna. I tried a bit of the hamachi and it tasted right, though it did make me appreciate the skillful knifework of a good sushi chef. Then again, that knifework never sells so generously as an under-a-buck-per-piece of quality fish.

Last up, I did get my halibut, in a way. My other friend took a chance on a smoked halibut dip — basically a seasoned cream cheese and fish spread, which we smeared on sourdough bread and savored mightily, ruining our palates for the afternoon. There's something to this Pelly's place, and apparently has been for a long time. I'm told their crab cakes routinely sell out, which means I'll need to spend another long lunch continuing to catch up on their menu.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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