Few openings in Long Beach have been longer awaited than Roe Restaurant, the city’s first cheffy modern seafood joint. When I drove by and first witnessed the exposed wood-and-beams dining room (with two freaking olive trees still inside) just after it finally opened back in October, I could hardly believe my eyes. Then I took a bite of the seven-spice grilled yellowtail collar and washed it down with a sip of the heavily rum’d Navy Grog under a colorful jellyfish mural a few days later and knew it had all been worth it.
Despite our proximity to the beach, I never thought Long Beach would have a casual restaurant that could rival the contemporary seafood restaurants in L.A. and Orange County. I especially didn’t think that such a place would be housed in a location that had been completely boarded up since poor Margaritaville wannabe Barry’s Beach Shack vacated it in 2010. And yet, there it is, exactly as he said it would be, phase two of chef Arthur Gonzalez’s vision for his Roe brand, the seafood concept he first launched as a corner fish market in 2012 after leaving the head chef position at McKenna’s on the Bay.
Back then, Roe Seafood and Fish Market was where Gonzalez first moved away from the fancy raw bar and surf and turf dinners he was churning out for the bay-side crowd at McKenna’s and turned what looked like an ordinary chill case full of a dozen market price fish into a lunchtime oasis of you-call-it tacos and paper-plate entrees like lobster bánh mìs and fisherman’s stews.
When he talked to our very own Anne-Marie for her On The Line column shortly after opening, he laid out his vision for the future:
The next phase is going to be a fish-focused, chef-driven, seasonal-cuisine restaurant with a raw bar. Although we will have original dishes, the menu will be made up of global cuisine that is constantly changing with what is available and in season. We will have a full bar and will focus on a mixology program. We would also like to offer a Saturday and Sunday brunch that is still seafood focused with a “kickback” beach environment.
He closed the fish market in 2014 (after losing his investors) and dedicated his energy into his Southwestern-focused Panxa. But the Roe of Gonzalez’s 2012 dreams is now Long Beach’s most exciting new restaurant of the last year—yes, even down to the crustacean omelets for brunch. Last year, Gonzalez re-opened the fish market and called it Roe Xpress. Roe Restaurant is its big-sister crowning jewel next door, a breathtaking space with a loose nautical theme (glass-orb lighting dropping from the ceiling, rusty chains around wooden beams) that serves up oysters on the half shell as easily as it does mixed sashimi chirashi bowls, porcini-dusted scallops and hickory-roasted al pastor swordfish.
The menu has some standout stalwarts – a spicy scallop ceviche that pops with sunflower seeds and black mint, an east-meets-west Scottish salmon dancing in a chili oil glaze, a smokey seafood chowder that’s more like a cioppino made with cream – but the real reason you’ll be returning is to see what Gonzalez manages to make out of each day’s new catch.
Roe is among an elite number of restaurants (and the only one in Long Beach to my knowledge) that is sourcing its proteins through Dock to Dish, a program launched by Michelin-starred Providence chef Michael Cimarusti that connects local fishermen and chefs. Often, Gonzalez doesn’t know what kind of seafood he has to work with until the Dock to Dish delivery arrives that day.
This means that one day the seven-spice fish collar could be the coveted yellowtail as I had, and another it could be sea bass or salmon. The steak-like achiote-rubbed al pastor swordfish I was blessed with on one recent visit was replaced by mahi mahi on another. And along with the regular printed menu you’ll get upon being seated, the hostess will also drop a thin yellow sheet of raw bar and sushi selections along with a golf pencil; all of the oysters and most of the sashimi and roe selections are write-ins that change every day.
Like Cimarusti’s casual West Hollywood restaurant Connie & Ted’s and visionary OC seafood newcomer Anchor Hitch, Roe allows you to go big with baller-like seafood towers and $130 scoops of Russian osetra caviar. But to truly appreciate the chef-driven draw of the place, it’s best to start with something more skill-prone, like a nigiri sampler (each piece comes individually garnished), a mussel, shrimp and uni coctel (that in freshness and flavor rivals those I’ve bought on the sand in Baja) or any of the market dishes that rely on the bounty of the water nearby for flavor. (And if you don’t see what you like on the menu, they’re always willing to grab you something from the fish market next door). Roe may have taken four years to get to Long Beach, but now that it’s here, I’m never letting it go.
5374 E 2nd St, Long Beach; (562) 434-2763; roeseafood.com/restaurant