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But we wanted to put the chef through his paces. Thus, we decided on a crabmeat cocktail ($15) and a plate of fried oysters ($13); a beet and arugula salad with goat cheese ($12); the luxurious lobster thermidor ($39), and mahi in the chef's tomato Citron preparation ($26 for the mahi, $5 for the chef's additions). These chef's additions range in price and style from the relatively modest to an asparagus lobster topping that tacks on an additional $12. So if you order, for example, black grouper ($32) with the chef's rock shrimp sauce ($9) and a side of sautéed baby spinach ($7), well, you do the math; I can't bear to.
I'm sorry, but these prices are hallucinatory. I can get a magnificent plate of black grouper right down the street at 3030 Ocean for $29, and the chef there, Dean Max, will throw in his "special preparation," including the vegetables, for free. Since when do we have to pay extra to access the chef's expertise? Ready folks? Let's do the hustle!
Our crab cocktail was as good as it gets: cold chunks of crab with a squeeze of lemon, to dip in a standard tartar or horseradish cocktail sauce. There's never enough of this stuff to suit me; it must cost its weight in gold. Fried oysters were another matter. Any corner diner in New Orleans can turn out a succulent fried oyster, but Fish is flummoxed by the notion. Thin, juiceless shellfish had been coated in a hardened, gritty, herb-and-breadcrumb crust and served lukewarm with cold mango-papaya salsa. Think of the savory, pudding-like interior and light-as-feathers coating of a real fried oyster and weep.
Our $12 beet salad arrived, arugula swimming in another too-sweet bath of balsamic vinegar with two red and yellow beets. These tasted pickled rather than roasted they were missing the usual earthiness. The elements of a wonderful salad were all here: sharp goat cheese (the disk had been fried), peppery arugula, and musky beets, but somehow the salad failed to come together. It was like inviting a bunch of interesting people to a dinner party that never clicks.
We quaffed our $34 bottle of Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay, ferried over by the wine steward whenever our glasses looked thirsty (did I say the service here is impeccable?). Lobster thermidor and mahi arrived. Thermidor is a retro, big-mouthed, flirty, feminine dish Carol Channing on a plate. Chunks of lobster are tossed around with béchamel sauce (cream, egg yolks, milk, butter, parmesan, flour, etc.), cubes of French bread, and lots of delicious tarragon, stuffed back into the shell, and baked with another coating of parmesan. Fish's version is scrumptious, except for the shards of lobster shell that you're likely to crunch down on along with a cream-laden hunk of baked bread. The lobster itself is buttery and muscular, mouth-filling, and there's plenty of it. Everyone with an income of six figures should eat lobster thermidor at least once a month.
The mahi, though, was another bust. The five-dollar extra sauce was a waste of our hard-earned dough. Tomato, onion, orange, lemon, lime, and Citron vodka, the latter lending the mix a degree of harshness it didn't need and the lemon and lime so faint as to provide no sour balance. But the mahi was a gorgeous piece of fish, thick, white, and flaky. We wished we'd left well enough alone and just ordered it grilled.
If you plan to eat at Fish, skip the sauce and go for one of our piscine friends just plainly grilled. Keep your meal as simple as possible, out of respect to these beleaguered animals. Don't be seduced by the "mélange" and the "hollandaise," the "banana rum sauce" and the dishes of $8 vegetables this is all smoke and mirrors. A glass or bottle of wine from their very good list, a glistening slab of snapper with lemon, and you've got a meal.
And you might as well go somewhere else for dessert, while you're at it. Our thick square of $8 key lime pie needed more lime and less sugar what's up with this kitchen's fear of tart flavors? The operative word here is lime, folks. In the end, eating at Fish feels a little like an aborted one-night stand. She was such a babe. But once you got her back to your pad, the talk felt empty, the caresses forced.
And then she took all your cash for the cab ride home.