Fresh Off The Hook 

When I was growing up in Southern California, my brothers, my sister and I regarded dinner from a franchise called H. Salt Fish and Chips to be the ultimate treat. Newspaper-lined baskets filled with piping hot French fries and crispy hunks of deep fried fish that we sprinkled generously with salt and malt vinegar were not only a favorite of us kids, but a welcome break from dinner duty for Mom. Three decades later, dinner at another little fish and chips joint in Boise, Idaho brings me nearly as much glee.

I learned early that the first test of a seafood restaurant is the way it smells. If it's fishy, turn around and walk out. That strong odor means that some sad piece of fish is deteriorating in the kitchen and you don't want to be the unlucky recipient of it on your plate. When I entered Fresh Off the Hook for a Saturday night dinner with my husband and one ravenous teenage son, my first deep inhalation smelled clean and fresh, the way a respectable seafood restaurant should. Instead of running the other way, we proceeded to the cashier's counter, where we placed our order and paid for our food before choosing a four-top in the dining room. The space's calming white and blue palette made me think that if I ever eat fish and chips on Nantucket the joint would look just like this.

We were just a few sips into our soda pop and beers (Sam Adams Octoberfest and Stella Artois lager) when father's and son's dinner salads arrived. Before long, the entrees arrived as well, enveloping us in the aroma of fresh seafood. Our son's golden, tender clam strips ($7.99) came with coleslaw, fries and cocktail sauce. My husband's battered halibut ($10.99) arrived in six small portions that were crispy and juicy, and featured the same sides as the clams but with dill-flecked tartar sauce. Fresh Off the Hook offers both halibut and Alaskan cod ($7.99) versions of fish and chips, and all their fried items are cooked in canola oil. The real treat of the meal was the hot seafood salad ($9.99), which was not only the source of the enticing aroma but of numerous cravings since. The fresh, natural flavors of bay shrimp and sweet-tasting scallops sauteed with mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini and garlic served over a bed of mixed greens proved utterly delectable and kind to my waistline, too. The service at Fresh Off the Hook was prompt, courteous and attentive, the food was much better than that of my childhood memories. I can't wait to return for another break from dinner duty.

--Jennifer Hernandez writes reviews just for the halibut.

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