Though Iowa is far from any ocean, that doesn’t mean we’re lacking in fresh, well-prepared seafood. Whether cooked or raw, the quality of fish and shellfish in Iowa can evoke memories of the sea.
Clinton Street Social Club
18 ½ S. Clinton St., Iowa City
Freshly shucked oysters are regularly featured at Clinton Street Social Club and the Motley Cow Cafe. Diners may be skeptical of eating oysters so far from the ocean, but—as any fish monger can tell you—if the oysters are firmly closed before shucking, they’re alive, and, well, it doesn’t get much fresher than “alive.”
Motley Cow Cafe
160 N. Linn St., Iowa City
The fish specials at the Motley Cow are always seasonally focused, featuring nuanced, interesting sauces and accompaniments that let the fish truly shine. A recent favorite featured halibut with a light pumpernickel crust, served in delicate tomato broth with arbequina olives and watercress; the fish took center stage, and each bite highlighted how fresh it was.
843 Quarry Rd. #140, Coralville
There is also stellar sushi in the Iowa City area. In addition to their intriguing artisanal sake menu, Konomi, at the Iowa River Landing in Coralville, features artfully rendered sushi rolls. Options range from more Westernized treats like the Philly roll (salmon, cream cheese and scallions), to the traditional spider roll, featuring soft-shell crab. They are beautifully presented, well-made and tasty.
745 Community Dr. #A, North Liberty
For nigiri, sashimi and small plates, the newly opened Sushiya, in North Liberty, is as good as any sushi on the coasts, or anywhere, really. I hate to use the adjective “buttery,” as it seems cliché, but I honestly could have mistaken the scallop nigiri for perfectly tempered butter: I held it in my mouth and waited for it to melt. Tuna tataki with ponzu and onion is exquisitely simple, and their tako sunomono—cooked octopus with a light, smoky vinegar dressing and slivers of raw cucumber—is so clean and has such bright, freshly focused flavors, it’s like a Zen koan of tiny brilliance.