Trips to the grocery store are usually pretty boring. Trips to the fish market, on the other hand, are anything but. Because at the fish market, you never know what you’re going to get. Maybe there was a blitz of bluefish on the water this morning, or a confused box crab got caught in a lobster trap overnight. And unlike a regular supermarket, everything’s fresh - they don’t need to freeze anything when it’s being carried in from the dock by a person wearing big rubber overalls.
Going to Dudley Market, the seafood spot a block from the beach in Venice, reminds us a lot of a trip to the fish market. You’re never certain what the menu might look like - but you can be pretty sure that whatever’s on there was swimming in the ocean 24 hours ago.
This includes what is, on most nights, the best thing on the menu - a whole-fried fish. Sometimes it’s a rockfish with crunchy garlic and spicy chili sauce on top, other times it’s a sand dab with almonds, radishes, and chili oil. But no matter what fish you get, it will be crispy, flaky, buttery, and more than likely caught on a boat the restaurant owns. That daily-catch dynamic is reflected across most of the menu, so if there’s both a tuna tataki and a tuna sampler that day, you can be pretty certain that they hauled in a bluefin that morning. You should also order both of them.
Some other things - mostly ones that aren’t caught with rod and reel - are on the menu daily. The burger, for example, is always there, and it’s fantastic. It’s juicy, and smothered in bacon-onion jam, cheddar, and arugula. We also order the clam and pork toast every time we’re here. It comes on thick, heavily seeded bread, and the crispy pork belly and steamed clams work perfectly together over herby mayonnaise. And, although vegetables are never our focus when there’s this much seafood around, both the crispy eggplant in nuoc cham and the corn on the cob are great. The corn is served elote-style with micro cilantro, cotija, and paprika, and sits on top of butter that you’ll be scraping the plate for.
The only real downside to serving fresh seafood is that on some days, the menu doesn’t feature anything as exciting as bluefin prepared five different ways. On one visit, we had a filet of halibut that - while certainly fresh - was too simple, and lacked any real flavor beyond fish. It was the same with the “Not A Lobster Roll,” which was a perfectly fine whitefish salad (made with sheepshead) on a bun, but again, mostly just tasted like sheepshead.
Though, to be fair, you won’t really mind when you’re sitting in a space this warm and welcoming. Dudley Market is basically a beautiful beach bungalow, with communal tables, vaulted ceilings, and reclaimed-wood furniture that looks like it could’ve been made from an old pirate ship. Meanwhile, the owner is going table to table, chatting with people like he recognizes them from the night before (even if it’s their first visit), and pouring schlucks of wine from a massive list that’s full of natural and biodynamic bottles, along with pages of traditional French and Californian wines. You won’t find anything like it at any other fish market in town.
You won’t find many restaurants like Dudley Market, either. It’s not easy to rely on whatever the tides bring in, because you have to be adaptive - not to mention skilled enough to cook what the ocean throws at you that day. But the people at Dudley Market make it look easy. Now if only they’d get a few pairs of those rubber overalls.
Sometimes your gut feeling is wrong - like when you “had a good feeling” about buying Bitcoin when it was $20,000. But when your gut tells you to order these oysters, do it.
The most unlikely duo since Elton John and Eminem at the 2001 Grammys, the clams on this toast go great with the salty, crunchy pork belly.
You need something on your table that’s not meat or fish, so make it this eggplant. It’s served with citrus slices and comes in nuoc cham that you’re going to drink out of the bowl.
Basically a heavily buttered cornbread-and-shrimp sandwich. It’s probably big enough to split, but order two anyway.
Just like how we’re no longer surprised when Jonah Hill is good in dramatic roles, we’ve stopped being shocked when a seafood spot has a great burger (see: Connie & Ted’s). Even with that in mind, this one, with bacon and onion jam, arugula, and cheddar, is excellent.
The whole fish changes depending on the day - sometimes it’s rock cod, sometimes it’s sad dab - but it’s always good. And you’ll always inevitably inspect the bones to make sure you got it all like you’re some miserly grandparent who won’t let anyone stand up until all plates are cleared.
Bread pudding always makes us think of the end of A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge has his dramatic change of heart and brings over all kinds of goodies like roast goose and - we assume - this excellent bread pudding.