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"Thai Style Whole Fish" at Reef

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The "Thai Style Whole Fish" has been on Reef's menu for at least a year, but I've never ordered it, opting instead for the terrific crispy snapper and many, many delicious buns.

Not that I don't find the idea of eating an entire sea creature (or most any creature for that matter) appealing. However, because no price is listed (only the caveat "Limited Availability), I always assumed the Whole Fish was some exotic species that would cost least $30.

Well, everyone knows what happens when you assume.

On my most recent visit, I finally asked about the Whole Fish. It was 1) available and 2) $23. Provided they didn't give me a minnow, that wasn't so bad.

The waiter assured me that that night's selection was red snapper (explains the price) and that the average serving was about one pound. "I'll take it," I said, getting excited. I added a side of fried macaroni and cheese just in case Whole Fish was more bone than flesh.

The husky, garnet-colored snapper came steeped in a delicious spicy lemongrass broth and covered with swollen mushrooms, grape tomatoes, celery, and kale. One of my dining companions gagged at the sight of the snapper, especially its eye, which gleamed rather cheekily under the light of our table's candle. I thought it was the most beautiful Whole Fish (corpse) I had ever seen.

For the next 45 minutes, I threw decorum into the wind as I tore apart the succulent snapper. I mined every nook and cranny and probably would have eaten the tail (hey, it has fiber) if I hadn't gotten sufficiently full from the body meat. Initially, I ate the dense macaroni and cheese separately; but at one point some noodles fell into the broth, and from that point forward I combined them. Rotini pasta, cream, and cheddar cheese mixed with complex Asian flavors may not be the most couth pairing, but I didn't care. The Thai-inflected mac and cheese sure beat my side of white rice out of the water, er, broth.

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