Four years ago, when I was still working as a reporter/editor for the Memphis Flyer, I spent a good deal of time covering the fight to save the historic 19th Century Club building on Union in Midtown. The building, a gorgeous mansion built in 1906 by Memphis lumber magnate Rowland Darnell, once served as the meeting space for a philanthropic women's club called the The 19th Century Club. They moved into the building in 1926 and operated there for more than 20 years, but as the condition of the structure deteriorated, they eventually moved out and it sat vacant for years.
Back in 2013, a couple purchased the property with intent to tear it down and build a restaurant in a strip-mall-style building. But before they could do so, they had to deal with some code violations in Shelby County Environmental Court. When Midtowners learned that one of the only remaining historic mansions on commercial-heavy Union Avenue was going to be demolished, they fought back. And I covered that fight for the newspaper. In July 2013, I wrote a piece titled "Demolition Certain for Nineteenth Century Club." And at the time, it seemed certain based on what happened in court. But an appeal was made, and the fight to save the club carried on until the new owners decided to save the building after all.
The couple, which owns a number of other Asian restaurants around the city and in the suburbs, announced they'd fix up the mansion and open a restaurant there rather than building a new structure. People rejoiced! Midtowners are all about preservation.
I was glad to see the building saved, but when the new place, Izakaya, opened, I was sad to see the menu offered almost no vegan options (maybe a salad?). It had a Japanese steakhouse and sushi theme, and there weren't even any vegan sushi rolls on the menu! I did visit there one time for drinks, but that was it. Luckily for me (and other vegans), that concept didn't work out, so they closed Izakaya and reopened it it as Red Fish Asian Bistro. The couple already operates two other Red Fish locations (in Olive Branch and Lakeland), so they know it's a concept that works.
I met Susan and Lesley there for lunch last week, and I noticed a number of dishes can be ordered with fried tofu. I opted for the Cashew Nut with Tofu, and THIS WAS SO GOOD. The fried tofu has a light breading on it, like maybe it's tossed with cornstarch before frying. And the cashews were added after stir-frying so they were nice and crunchy.
I loved this dish SO MUCH that Paul and I went back to Red Fish for dinner this weekend. I'd hoped to get vegan sushi that night. My friend Lesley had ordered three veggie rolls for lunch the other day, and they looked so beautiful. But sadly, the veggie sushi is only on the lunch menu and not the dinner menu, which is weird. Our server told me they could probably still make veggie rolls at dinner, and I was thinking of asking for that. But then Paul ordered noodles, and I thought I'd just do that too. Lest I be jealous of his noodles.
But first, we ordered a round of Vegetable Spring Rolls. These came with a spicy sweet and sour sauce that was much tastier than the standard sweet and sour you typically get at Asian restaurants.
For my entree, I went with the Yaki Udon with Fried Tofu — fat, rice noodles with zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, and broccoli. This typically also has egg, but they were happy to leave that out. These noodles have a lovely, pan-seared flavor, and I would definitely order this again and again. Also, they were super generous with the tofu in this dish! I'd say there was more tofu than noodles, which is a win!
Besides the food menu, Red Fish has a nice wine selection and an inventive cocktail menu. Plus, the inside is just gorgeous. Early 1900s architecture, with its ornate crown moulding and high ceilings, is so impressive, and the owners have really preserved the character of the mansion. The dining areas are in the separate rooms of the house, so only a few tables fit in each room creating an intimate dining experience. It's definitely a great date night place!