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Fin is a swirl of exotic flavors, unusual blends

Bread and Brew
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Fin is a new seafood restaurant on Southeast Hawthorne with a Japanese flair. Dishes like the red snapper are served in a hot stone rice bowl with kimchi, pork cheek, black kale, wild mushrooms and egg yolk.

When I arrived at Fin, my friend was sitting at the bar, sipping a cocktail made with prosecco and Cynar and using her phone to look up the sustainability scores of different fish, as rated by Seafood Watch.

It struck me as a snapshot of the time we live in: smart phones, bitter liqueurs and a fish situation that is becoming increasingly complicated.

The menu at Fin is almost entirely seafood, much of it served in delicate, Japanese-style preparations. Fin occupies the space on Hawthorne that used to be Sel Gris, and it doesn't look that different, although there is now a long bar dividing the small room in half. It's still a place for dainty, carefully presented dishes.

An appetizer of spicy octopus was wrapped in sheets of creamy raw marlin and served on Asian soup spoons. The octopus was excellent, braised and diced, tender yet with that inimitable meaty texture that good octopus has. Each bite was a little citric, flavored with the Asian fruit yuzu, and a little crunchy from a festive topping of orange tobiko (fish eggs).

The ceviche was almost too pretty to dig into. Fresh, firm, mild chunks of snapper were dressed with sprigs of cilantro and narrow ribbons of green onion. Tiny dried shrimp were scattered throughout, adding crunch and salt.

If you're looking for a traditional fish house, Fin is not your place. Staples like salmon, halibut and crab may not be on the menu at all, depending on the night. Chef Trent Pierce does serve local fish, as available, but his main supplier is the Honolulu Fish Co., a distributor known for high-quality and sustainable practices. Pierce says that he hasn't gotten many questions about sustainability from his customers, only from the media.

Customers, it seems, are too busy swooning over the 'vegetable,' as it's called on the menu. As this plate arrived, a woman on her way out of the restaurant stopped at our table to ask, 'Isn't it wonderful?'

It is an arrangement of pureed potatoes and pureed cauliflower, in concentric ovals, topped with caramelized cauliflower, sunchokes and two kinds of mushrooms: matsutakes and chanterelles. The whole is scented with truffle oil.

It's rich and velvety and decadent, a real crowd pleaser.

Spinning dessert

A stranger but equally successful assemblage of flavors was an entrée of butterfish, a firm, juicy fish with an excellent texture. It was coated in a thin layer of cocoa powder and topped with orange zest. At first the combination seemed a little odd, but eaten in conjunction with the precious drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar on the plate, it all came together beautifully.

Fin's seafood 'spaghetti and meatballs' didn't work as well. Squid-ink pasta, black and sweet, was served with a spicy tomato sauce and fish balls that had a light, porky texture. They were made with a ground mixture of scallops, shrimp, butterfish, marlin and snapper. Instead of shaved parmesan, the dish was topped with bonito flakes, which are dried fish flakes, so parchment-thin that they wave back and forth in the steam of the dish, making the whole thing look like it's breathing.

Somehow, the briny, fishy flavors didn't mesh with the sweet and spicy elements. The expectation, and partial taste, of actual spaghetti and meatballs clashed with what was really there - the idea eclipsed the flavor.

For dessert we had a dense chocolate tart, all bracing, bitter cocoa, topped with a rivulet of caramel sauce flavored with miso. It was like salted caramel, but with a bit more sea to it, a clever spin on an already trendy taste.

Fin, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, 1852 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-517-7770, www.finpdx.com, entrees $13-$26

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