A Christmas Feast of the 7 Fishes, Sparks style

Octopus, cioppino, live lobsters and more

JOHNATHAN L. WRIGHT/RN&R: Whole grilled octopus from Mariscos El BarCo, a family-owned Mexican seafood restaurant on Greenbrae Drive in Sparks.

Some dishes I’ll never (again) cook at home. Macarons. Pho. Peking duck. And all manner of fish and seafood. These dishes are for restaurants; the pros will always do them better than I can.

So when I recently received an inquiry about the Feast of the Seven Fishes — the Italian-American tradition of eating fish and seafood on Christmas Eve — I knew I would not be sharing with readers my journey through mussels, whole baked cod and scallops in a snarl of capellini.

But I liked the idea.

And the Feast dovetailed (fishtailed?) nicely with my intention to increase Sparks coverage as the city experiences a food and drink moment, what with meal deals from My Secret Sparks, the opening of lavish Sparks Water Bar, a planned restaurant week from @HungryInSparks, and officials like Sparks City Councilwoman Dian VanderWell making support for restaurants part of their platforms.

The result of idea and intention is the Feast of the Seven Fishes presented not as a meal, but as a showcase of fish and seafood dishes offered by establishments across the Rail City. It’s a plunge to the salty deep for the holidays — and beyond.

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1.           Oysters on the half shell, Oyster Bar in the Nugget Casino Resort, 1100 Nugget Ave.

PROVIDED TO RN&R: A half-dozen oysters from the Oyster Bar in the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks.

As the weather cools, oyster season begins. The Oyster Bar at the Nugget, one of the grand old restaurants of Northern Nevada, offers seasonal oysters classically outfitted with cocktail sauce and spurts of lemon. You could do a half dozen oysters, but a full dozen is only $5 more.

2.           Crab and beet salad, Oyster Bar in the Nugget Casino Resort

PROVIDED TO RN&R: Earthy beets and briny crab link arms in this salad from the Oyster Bar in the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks.

Menus for Feast of the Seven Fishes vary widely, but many include a salad course as a lighter prelude to (or respite from) the heavier dishes at the meal. At the Nugget Oyster Bar, our featured salad unites turf and surf, the earthy richness of beets and the sweet brininess of a mound of crab.

3.           Pescado tostada, Mariscos El BarCo, 495 Greenbrae Drive

JOHNATHAN L. WRIGHT/RN&R: The pescado (“fish”) tostada at Mariscos El BarCo in Sparks is mounded with tilapia ceviche.

Mariscos El BarCo, a family-owned seafood spot, occupies a Sparks landmark: the building on Greenbrae Drive shaped like a clipper ship. For the pescado (“fish”) tostada, a heap of tilapia ceviche crowned by a slab of avocado rises from a fried corn tortilla.

The name of the restaurant provides a double play on words: Mariscos (“seafood”) plus El Barco (“the boat”), and Mariscos plus Bar (as in drinks) plus Co as a shorthand for Comida (“meal” or “food”). Cool, right?

4.           Scampi alla Famiglia, Pietro’s Famiglia Ristorante Italiano, 834 Victorian Ave., upstairs

PROVIDED TO RN&R: Scampi alla Famiglia from Pietro’s Famiglia Ristorante Italiano upstairs on Victorian Avenue in Sparks.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes also traditionally includes a pasta dish, in keeping with the Christmas Eve custom in certain parts of Italy of eating a pasta course that includes seafood. Pietro’s scampi tosses together prawns, a tangle of linguine, and red sauce, cream sauce or white wine and mushrooms.

5.           Cioppino, Oyster Bar in the Nugget Casino Resort

PROVIDED TO RN&R: Cioppino is a signature dish at the Oyster Bar in the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks.

Cioppino takes its place in the Classics section of the Oyster Bar menu (along with bouillabaisse, Creole gumbo, and a seafood extravaganza with squid and five kinds of shellfish). The fragrant cioppino is provisioned with shrimp, crab, lobster and other seafood poached in garlic, tomatoes and white wine.

6.           Pulpo zarandeado, Mariscos El BarCo

JOHNATHAN L. WRIGHT/RN&R: Grilled pulpo (“octopus”) from Mariscos El BarCo in Sparks is served with rice and accoutrements.

This dish originated in the Mexican state of Nayarit, on the country’s Pacific Coast. For the Mariscos El BarCo version, a whole octopus is par-boiled to help soften it, then grilled. The octopus touches down in a splay of tentacles topped with chipotle crema.

Anoint the octopus with spritzes of lime, then slice off tender chunks of meat to eat as is, over rice, or ask for a side of flour tortillas and wrap the meat taco style.

7.           Live lobsters and frozen tails, Sierra Gold Seafood, 1335 Greg Parkway (off Greg Street)

PROVIDED TO RN&R: North Atlantic live lobsters from Sierra Gold Seafood in Sparks.

The final course in our feast will require folks to do the cooking themselves. Live lobsters are literally the definition of living luxury (during the holidays or any other time). When we checked in with family-owned Sierra Gold, its live lobsters were being sourced from the North Atlantic.

Not up for whole crustacean cooking? The fishmonger also currently offers frozen lobster tails from the North Atlantic or West Australia. Sierra Gold is committed to working with sustainable fish and seafood producers.

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Johnathan L. Wright is the food and drink editor for Reno News & Review. Follow him on Twitter at @ItsJLW or on Facebook personally or at @FoodNevada. Sign up here for the Reno News & Review free weekly newsletter highlighting our most recent stories.

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