The District Fishwife Soft Opens in Union Market

1309 5th Street, NE

The District Fishwife is now open in Union Market. For those not familiar – from their Facebook page:

” We will offer fresh and sustainably caught and raised seafood and prepared seafood for take-away, notably our own take on the classic Fish and Chips.

Fiona Lewis is The Fishwife. She brings a passion for seafood and the health of the world’s oceans, and a desire to educate customers to make more sustainable and healthy choices when they bring home seafood. Fiona grew up in Melbourne, Australia near the ocean and spent her childhood fishing with her grandfather in Port Phillip Bay and watching her Dad breed and release endangered fish to rebuild local populations. Fiona studied marine biology during university and quickly understood the extent to which the world’s oceans were being stressed by over-fishing, pollution, and illegal fishing practices. She has 25 years of international experience in hospitality, retail sales, and education, and has worked in the hospitality industry since she was 18. She’s been searching for the chance to bring together her two passions in life, and this shop is the culmination of that dream.

We are committed to offering the best quality sustainable seafood available from Day One and in order to make sure we have the best fish we can find, we’ve brought on a local seafood expert as our fish buyer, Vernon Lingonfelter. Vernon knows good fish when he sees it, and we’re excited to have him on our team.”


On Sunday they posted they following menu on their twitter feed:


They also tweet:

“We’ll have our fish and chips and beer on the menu by Friday as well……..”

For the rest of the week hours are 11am-6pm Wed.-Fri. and 8am-6pm Sat. and Sun.

121 Comment

  • I appreciate what she’s trying to do, but man, those prices are steep!

  • Wow, those prices are crazy.

  • I guess I’ll stick to Fish n da Hood for the time being.

  • justinbc

    Fiona was really cool when I met her at the DC Sharp booth, and I’ve probably been looking forward to this opening more than anything else for 2014 (OK maybe not more than Maketto, but close), but holy hand grenades @ those prices! TWENTY TWO per pound for COD??

    • There are a few bargains here and there, but for the most part, prices at Union Market are in the realm of ridiculous.

      • justinbc

        I think the butcher (Harvey’s) is pretty solid. It’s not as cheap as what you’ll find at Eastern Market, but it’s not too different and I think the quality is better. Aside from that I would agree, not much in the “bargain” department to be found there. (I do still love the place though, and frequent it as often as possible)

      • Is the rent there just outrageously high or something?

        • I guess they’re simply charging as much as they can get away with. The place is super crowded almost all day on the weekends, almost to the point where it’s difficult to move around, but I get the impression that it’s the sort of place that people visit occasionally, not on a regular basis for their staples.

      • I agree, and I’m so glad I’m not the only one who thinks this. I am totally Union Market’s target audience (white gentriifier with money who likes food), and I never go there because it’s SO expensive. Just insultingly expensive.

        • I’ve never seen a person who wasn’t white or Asian at Union Market except for the guys emptying the trash bins.

  • Also why are the selling “Chilean sea bass” –Patagonian tooth fish- which has been fished to the point of extinction?

  • Ridiculously absurd prices & not necessarily all sustainable catches.

  • Looks like a nice shop but jeezum lord mercy, who will pay those prices? I can get fresh salmon at Costco for like $8/lb.

    I like Union Market overall but this place goes in the same category as Salt & Sundry and Righteous Cheese as being too much for me to talk myself into.

    • Salt & Sundry is just fun to walk through – so well curated. I bought a mug there this weekend. After checking the price versus the website of the producing company, Salt & Sundry was actually cheaper. Most of their goods are impossibly artisan, but I can’t help but enjoy them.

  • Finally, the fish market for the 1% that DC always needed.

  • I’d be afraid to cook any of it myself.

  • Looks wonderful, great ideals, but so not in my budget. I’m looking forward to seeing the fish and chips menu — but if cod is $22 a pound, the fish and chips will likely be beyond my budget as well. Ouch.

  • The prices are not that high for the quality of product. We bought a pound of sea bass there this weekend and it was out of this world. There is literally NOTHING that compares to this place in terms of freshness and quality, except for BlackSalt fish market which requires a 45-90 minute drive to upper NW through traffic, and their prices are comparable. Fishwife if something SE/NE desperately needed.

    • justinbc

      How much difference in freshness could cod possibly be to justify a 3-4x increase over market price?

      • Really, you can’t get much fresher than freezing it immediately after filleting, which is how the grocery store fish is sold.

      • “Market price” for farmed, artificially-colored fish from Giant versus top-quality fresh fish isn’t the same. I can’t really opine on whether the Fishwife’s prices are worth it since I haven’t been there yet, but I’ve happily paid similar prices at Black Salt. There’s really no comparison – especially for making your own sushi..

        • gotryit

          Doesn’t sushi grade mean that it’s been frozen for some combination of time / temperature? Fresh doesn’t mean sushi-grade.

          • This is right. The FDA requires all sushi be frozen previously for a certain amount of time. So unless you go to a rogue sushi restaurant, you’re never actually getting “fresh” fish. What makes sushi fish good isn’t the freshness (though it must be stored properly, especially after thawing) but rather the grade of fish.

        • I’m not comparing it to farmed and artificially colored fish. I’m comparing it to fish that is identical to that from Giant/Safeway/HT, aside from the issue of freshness (and I’m skeptical that this would be any fresher anyhow).

          • I can assure you it is not identical to the fish available at the grocers you list — not even close. And if you think the fish from those spots is not (in most cases) farmed or artificially colored, you are kidding yourself. You may not think the difference is worth the price, but to say the fish wife is selling an identical project is just ridiculous.

          • edit: product (not project)

          • The fish is, in fact, the same. The question is how it’s been handled from the time it was caught until the time it’s purchased from the retailer. Yellowtail is yellowtail, for the most part. Giant, for example, might leave a thawed fish in its display for days, so when you get it there’s a fishy smell. Or they thawed it and let it sit in its own liquid. Or they kept it frozen for too long. Or they refroze it. Etc. Like I wrote below, sometimes paying more for something makes consumers feel like they’re getting something substantially different, but that’s rarely the case with fish. All this fish has been frozen.

          • “I can assure you it is not identical to the fish available at the grocers you list — not even close. And if you think the fish from those spots is not (in most cases) farmed or artificially colored, you are kidding yourself.”

            It states right on the sign if it’s farmed or artificially colored. Yes, those options are available, but you can pay a little more for fish that is wild caught and not artificially colored. And it still won’t cost anywhere near as much as this.

          • of course the species is (hopefully) the same. But just like a NY strip from a sprawling farm in Shenandoah is different from a NY strip from a factory farm in Ohio, so too is the product the Fish Wife is selling different from that of Costco, Giant, Safeway etc. There are so many variables that affect the quality of the product (the way it is caught, how long ago it was caught, how it was handled, how it was killed, etc). Saying it is identical implies to me that you are getting the same product, of the same quality, handled the same way, caught the same way (wild caught can mean many different things) from the fish wife that you are getting from those grocers which is just not accurate.

            The difference might not be worth it to you, but aside from the species, it is just not the same.

          • Rockfish, that she has listed for $24/lb. is caught a few miles from here and sells at Maine Ave. for about $7/lb., not previously frozen and with a green tag hanging out of its mouth. You’ve got to know what you’re looking for, but the point is that most high fish prices aren’t worth it. Yellowtail is yellowtail, and no one knows how to farm it. Wholesalers get it frozen. It all comes from the ocean. What a fishmonger does with it afterwards is up to them, and that’s what affects the quality of your yellowtail. If you go to Giant and simply look for their best-looking fish, you’ll come away with something high quality. Ask the guy which came out of the freezer last, filet a fish yourself, etc. If you’re not into all that, it might be worth it to pay these prices and not deal with it.

          • I’m confused and feel like you keep changing your point. First you claimed places like Giant don’t sell wild caught fish. Now you’re saying they do but are implying that they handle it improperly whereas DF doesn’t. I’m not sure how you deduced that because I can’t from the information I have access to as a consumer.

          • Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to write that Giant doesn’t sell wild caught fish. Sure they do. I deduce it because I freaking love fish and hunt around this city for the best ones. Yellowtail, for example, is caught and frozen on a boat. It gets distributed to wholesalers, and wholesalers distribute it to retailers. If the yellowtail at DF has a nice texture, doesn’t smell, cooks well, and so on, but the yellowtail at Giant is stinky, it’s not because it’s a substantially different fish. It’s because Giant is a faceless corporate entity and its poorly-paid employees are instructed not to waste any fish, and they leave it in their display for three days or keep it at the wrong temperature or thaw it quickly or whatever.

          • you seem to be trolling now (and I am not sure if this is directed at me or Mr. Poon) but my only point has been that, while it may not be worth it to some, it is ridiculous to say the fish from the Fish Wife is identical to fish from Giant, Safeway, etc.

          • justinbc

            @mmm, How exactly do you know what you’re getting here is any different? There are no sources listed anywhere, unless you just believe “she loves fish and the sea” and whatever else the PR company puts out. Whole Foods puts out similar literature… I’m not saying her product isn’t vastly superior or whatever you’re claiming, but there’s nothing provided YET to back that up.

          • Sorry Mr. Poon, my response was intended for mmm (I agree with most of your points). On the contrary mmm, I feel like you’re the one trolling. I’m sure the handling and storage of fish varies from store to store, but the fish I get from my Harris Teeter is never smelly or has any indication that it’s been sitting out forever. I just don’t see any substantial difference between regular grocery store fish and fish from a dedicated purveyor. If there was I’d be the first in line to pay more! You think I’m ridiculous for not seeing some minuscule difference, while I think you’re ridiculous for paying four times as much. So how about you go ahead and pay $22/lb for your “fancy” cod and I’ll pay $5/lb for my “inferior” cod and let’s not judge each other, ok? 🙂

    • I am looking forward to trying it, but “desperately” needed?

    • lol well idk what your problem is if its taking you 45-90 mins to get to palisades
      stop drinking scotch before the drive!!!!

      Disclaimer: i kid i kid… but seriously though 45-90?

      • justinbc

        Agreed. I got from Capitol Hill to Leesburg last night, in rush hour traffic, with a car on fire on 395 and some sort of government road closure on Highway 7, in just under 2 hours. I can’t imagine where you would have to drive from to take 90 minutes to get to BlackSalt.

        • I took my girlfriend to an appointment in Chevy Chase on Monday, via Mass Ave from Capitol Hill. It took just over an hour, but it was in the middle of the day on a Federal holiday so traffic was light. It does take forever to drive to that part of town from ours.

          • Caroline, From Capitol Hill take North Capitol to Missouri, make a left and Missouri will eventually become Military road which dumps you into Chevy chase. 35 to 40 minutes depending on traffic. You’ll avoid all that downtown and Dupont circle traffic.

      • I’ve never driven to Palisades, but it usually takes me 45-60 minutes to drive from Capitol Hill to Dupont. So I can see it.

        • What the heck are yaul driving???
          damn horse & buggy

          unless we are talking in the heat of rush hour while its pouring outside i dont see it
          no reason it should take that long from cap hill

        • it used to take me ~35 mins from Mitchellville, MD (about 12 miles outside of the city) to get to dupont

        • Come on. This might be a worst-case scenario (or *maybe* a very time/day/route-specific scenario) but no way is that the typical experience.

          • Nope, absolutely typical. On a good day 45 minutes, on a bad day more like an hour. Deny it if you’d like, but I’ve done that drive enough times to know the truth about how long it takes!

          • Exactly. either that or you are taking bone headed routes
            there is no way it takes 30 mins to get down canal rd to palisades

            chevy chase will deff take longer to get to than palisades

          • Like I said, I’ve never driven to Palisades. To get to Dupont from Capitol Hill I usually take Massachusetts Avenue. Do you know of a better route?

        • I live smack dab in the middle of the hill, and work just off the circle in dupont. I don’t know which way you guys are driving, but you sure are taking bad routes. If it takes me more than 30 minutes that’s no good. As for the palisades, SE/SW freeway, to Maine Avenue/Independence to Whitehurst to Foxhall to McCarther, palisades in easily under 30 on a weekend.

    • I very much enjoy fresh fish, but I’m extremely skeptical that this fish is fresher than other fish available from good fish markets in the city. Unless you’re a fisherman, or live on a pier, fish comes from wholesalers, and the amount of wholesalers in this area is limited. They have different quality fish for sale, no doubt, but this fish is frozen and thawed, just like all the fish we get that hasn’t been caught this morning. There are some exceptions (local Rockfish, for example, can be gotten super-fresh, even if they’re not the tastiest), but I tend to think that these prices make consumers think they’re getting a different product when they’re in fact getting something very similar to what’s available from the wharf, for example. I don’t doubt that this fish is stored and treated better than alternatives, but it’s unlikely that the price reflects the freshness of something caught half a world away. I don’t mean to be sour on this place — the fish looks very good — but I don’t necessarily think that more expensive fish is better fish.

    • Agreed — tried her tuna last week and it was amazing. Not an everyday purchase, but totally worth it to me.

      • For the money, go on a fishing charter and catch a tuna yourself. I’m not kidding. I can promise you that whatever Fish Wife is selling isn’t as good as something you’re cutting into while still on the boat.

        • +1,000,000…oh how I miss the Gulf Coast!

        • Indeed
          did a trip in Nov for my birthday
          we came back with more tuna & dolphin than we knew what to do with
          ate tuna for a couple weeks straight

          • Husband caught a yellowfin tuna off Virginia Beach this summer. We were literally hacking at this fish on the dock, devouring it like we had never eaten before. It was amazing. I’m ruined for life.

  • I am very interested in determining the sourcing for some of these options that are being portrayed as sustainable. The Chilean sea bass is definitely a controversial choice but some fisheries like those in the Falkland and Mc Donald Islands are considered sustainable and other fisheries have received MSC certification. Recent stock assessments of North Atlantic swordfish stocks have shown recovery I suppose if it is sourced from American fisheries or by harpoon fisheries it may be considered sustainable. The Scottish and Canadian salmon is a little baffling and I am curious to hear Ms. Lewis’s explanation because most of the salmon from these countries are aquacultured in unsustainable ways, but there are exceptions (it would be better if it was Alaskan wild caught or from a couple specific fisheries in NorCal, Oregon, or Washington). Cod, this could be a market name for a number of white fish from a number of regions and respective fisheries, again I am curious to see where this is from and if it is atlantic or pacific cod or pollock (atl. or pac.). I am currently reading NOAA’s Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review for South Atlantic Snowy Grouper because I have no information about this fisheries, but I appreciate learning something new.

    • justinbc

      Yeah, for those prices I would expect to see some geographic areas attached to the fish. Here’s to hoping they update that when they’re actually fully opened rather than “soft” opened. That’s basically the equivalent of going into a restaurant and asking for “the red wine” and hoping you get the Bordeaux rather than the Beaujolais.

  • Well the $22/lb for Cod is to make up for what the crowdfunding didn’t cover. I mean, free money with no ROI is hard to come by.

  • Not sure about the Cod, but a lot of those prices are not that unreasonable. Expensive, no doubt, but not more than other premium fish markets around town.

    And the tuna from the Fish Wife was incredible. Not an everyday thing, but totally worth it every now an then imo. For some perspective, a tuna entree in a restaurant would cost close to $30 (if not more) for a 6-8 oz portion…

  • This makes the hundreds of dollars my husband spends on fishing charters seem reasonable. And I’m extra grateful for my Alaskan parents who send fifty pounds of salmon every summer! For those prices, I expect it to be cooked for me. And a backrub.

  • I would expect to pay about 20% more than I would at Whole Foods. No idea if that’s what these prices are, but that’s the ballpark I had in mind. The extra 20% comes from knowing its all sustainable/fresh as possible, with no corners cut, and to support a small business rather than a faceless corporation. And I like the experience of buying fish from someone who is passionate about it and has expertise about preparation, storage, pairings. Either way, I can’t afford to buy fish every day, so it’s always going to be a luxury item for me.

    Given how much of our fish supply is of dubious quality from China and elsewhere, there’s a premium for just being able to walk up to the counter and order without having to second guess where its from. If you’ve got a good seafood hook up where you are getting quality, wild fish that’s fresh and tastes great, please don’t keep it to yourself. Myself, I’ve struggled with that a bit and I’m super excited for this new store.

    • I don’t understand. Most basic grocery stores have good-tasting wild caught options that are fresh and cost a lot less than this (or Whole Foods).

      • But where is it from? If all you know is that its wild caught, that’s not a lot of info. Are you arguing that there’s no difference in quality between Giant and District Fishwife, or that its not enough of a difference to justify the price? If its the latter, I think its just a matter of different strokes for different folks. Everyone splurges on some stuff and saves on other stuff. I tend to think food I cook and prepare myself is worth splurging on, but I’m sure a lot of the stuff i buy in other areas would make you think I’m overly frugal.

        • They also provide geographical information at those stores. So I don’t understand what additional information you’re getting at a place like this. And as others have pointed out, fish is frozen and thawed no matter where you get it, so I’m not sure there’s a difference from a freshness standpoint. I’ll spend extra on quality too, but I’m just not sure you’re getting it here.

  • The prices aren’t out of line for high-quality fish. Comparing the prices here to those at Costco or Harris Teeter is ridiculous, as the fish sold in those places and far too often, at Whole Foods, is borderline inedible.

    • Inedible, really? Thousands of people seem to be capable of eating it.

    • Have you ever had Costco salmon? If you think it’s “borderline inedible” you have insanely high standards.

    • Costco actually has some excellent wild caught frozen salmon. Like all seafood you have to watch out what you are buying, but I prefer them more than Whole Foods and it’s leaps and bounds over what you are getting at Safeway, Giant, Harris Teeter, etc. Some (SOME) frozen options at TJ’s compare favorably. As everybody else is saying, the best way to know your seafood is to know the purveyor. I would hope that a dedicated fishmonger like this would be able to tell you exactly when and where their product is caught. They should be leveraging the shit out of what Mr. Lingonfelter brings to the table and providing copious data on their catch. To do otherwise invites the discussion playing out here.

    • I buy salmon at the Friendship Heights Whole Foods on a regular basis, and I’ve found the quality to be consistently good — although I’m one of those people who mutter “no, not that piece, this one” before making my purchase. I’ve occasionally found a few scales — which is okay, since I’m not eating the skin, and occasionally found a few bones — which is less okay.
      While the DF sign says where the salmon came from, with the prices, I’m surprised that it doesn’t specify what kind of salmon it is. That’s something that would make a difference to me, and that would also affect the pricing..

    • Agree. I stopped buying fish at the NoMa Harris Teeter because it was just never very good. Even when I cooked it the same day I bought it, it often smelled when I unwrapped it. The only time it’s good is when they have some special Friday catch that is significantly more expensive than their normal stuff.

      • Yeah, you should never buy fish that smells fishy. Come down to the Potomac Ave Harris Teeter; I’ve never had that problem there.

  • Can’t comment about the quality of this fish – haven’t been yet. But: all to often at DC supermarkets (including Whole Foods), fish is poorly cleaned, particularly if you are buying whole fish. North of 50% of the fish we buy at Whole Foods needs additional scaling and often parts are ruined because of poor cleaning/gutting.

  • For reference, here’s a photo of the fish market in Istanbul that my friend just posted to Facebook.
    This is the price per kilogram (2.2 pounds) in Turkish Lira. Do the math and then tell me if Union Market is charging a fair price.
    I guarantee you that this fish is just as good as the stuff you’ll find at Union Market.

    • According to Google, the Turkish Lira runs about .45/dollar, which means the fish in your picture are just about as expensive — maybe moreso, that the Fishmarket’s.

    • Thanks for the reference. Sounds like you’ve stumbled upon a winning business plan. Make daily flights to Istanbul or some other emerging economy, purchase fish, then just sit back and watch the cash roll in as all those high earning DC folk throw their money at you. I was thinking of doing the same thing selling Big Macs bought here in Switzerland but McDonalds apparently doesn’t understand arbitrage.

  • Cod for $22 a pound?! No thanks.

  • I hope the fish buyer is able to see past any wholesalers trying to trick him with mislabeled fish. (My understanding was that some fish types are really, really difficult to distinguish just by looking at them.)

  • Costco also has some very good ship-frozen sustainable individually wrapped fish fillets that you buy frozen. The Hake is delicious.

  • These people know what they are doing. The fish is beautiful. The samples are irresistible. So happy this store is open. Nice complement to the other stands around it. Yes, $30 for a pound of grouper. But it’s the best grouper you’ll ever taste.

    • No, its not the best grouper you will ever have. That can be had at the beach along the coast from Va.Beach on south. If you use your eyes and nose at WF you can get grouper that’s just as fresh at $19.00/lb.

    • You should make fewer assumptions about other people’s life experiences.

  • As much as commenters will deny it, as seen from the ‘traffic’ here – Fish Wife will do very well.

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