Fish Fry for Friends

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Jeff Lewis's business card says his food aims for urban, chic and sleek.

But the co-owner and executive chef of Little Blackbox Company isn't above frying up a down-home dish for friends.

Sunday night a crowd of about 50 gathered on the front steps of the Elder Street Artist Lofts to munch some fish, suck down a few Coronas, stare at the skyline across I-45 and groove to DJ JaeKim Stackcache, who set up in the lobby.

Lewis used basa, a Vietnamese deep-water catfish, for the event. He tends not to use the domestic variety because it's a dirty, oily bottom-feeder. Basa is cleaner, meatier and carries the same price tag.

He first soaks the fish in a liquid batter of spicy mustard, heavy whipping cream and garlic powder, then coats it in a mix of dry spices and cornmeal before dropping it into the 350-degree oil for 8 minutes.

The double-breading is evident with each bite, the crumbly outer layer giving way to the firmer, crispier coating along the meat, which is moist, and holds its own even as Lewis's favorite ingredient, a zesty spice called Gator Cove, spreads heat down your throat.

Eighteen pounds of basa (and one noise complaint) later, there wasn't a frown in sight.

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