Your Fish Is My Command

Want it? McCormick & Schmick's can get it.

What a time we live in, eh?

Still, we stuck stubbornly close to home, two accidental and unadventurous tourists. We ordered stone crab claws from Key West (three for $19.90) and black grouper ($21.95) and wahoo ($19.90) from Panama City. And we ventured farther afield for those calamari ($11.85) from Point Judith, Rhode Island, just to see if they differed in the least from the calamari-from-anywhere offered by every other restaurant in South Florida. And, while McCormick & Schmick's allows plenty of opportunity for freshly grilled fish with just a dab of lemon butter (which, in retrospect, I highly recommend), we went for more elaborate preparations, figuring the chef might like to show off a little. Our server had opined that his favorite was the Atlantic salmon from New Brunswick stuffed with blue crab, Oregon bay shrimp, and brie ($19.90), but I couldn't quite wrap my head around that brie. So I'd gone with his second favorite, the black grouper stuffed with blue crab and Boursin. I'm ever suspicious of fish-cheese combinations (there's a reason Italians frown on this practice) unless I happen to be tucking into tuna fish and cheddar casserole with an 8-year-old, but I put my reservations aside. My partner had the wahoo glazed in bourbon and topped with shiitakes on a bed of tomato and "sautéed greens."

The crab claws were a mistake, it turned out. Not that they were bad. But we should have been sitting in a brightly lit room with bibs tied around our necks at a table covered with brown paper. Stone crabs are messy eating — what was I thinking!? — and trying to extract shreds of sweet meat from those unforgiving claws in the half-light of a halfway-elegant restaurant was no picnic. The claws came with a pleasant citrusy mustard sauce that was quite good. But I wished I'd just ordered the crab, shrimp, and artichoke dip instead, at roughly half the price. The calamari were a little more tender than you find in other restaurants, but I wouldn't go further than describing them as pleasant. Also, the three sauces offered (a marinara, an aioli, and a strange, sweet green sauce that tasted of citrus and cilantro) weren't compatible — you had to choose one and stick with it to save your stomach.

Joe Rocco

Our entrées arrived, and what a mess they were. I felt particularly bad for my companion, whose "sautéed greens" under her wahoo was actually a salad mesclun mix swimming in some kind of lukewarm butter lemon sauce (I'd venture, not real butter) and topped with a tomato, as if the tomato were a life preserver to save the fish from drowning. Her wahoo was in fact bone dry (as wahoo often is, if it isn't prepared exactingly), and the bourbon glaze couldn't pull this dish from its sloppy conception and execution. Yuck.

My black grouper was a mite better, if only because the fish was very smooth and delicate. It probably was a delicious fillet, but there's no way you could taste much when it was drenched in Boursin cheese, which is heavy on garlic and chives (essentially, Boursin is one step up from onion dip). The crab, naturally, got lost in this brew. A serving of string beans and carrots alongside was crisp but tasteless; ditto the rice, completely lacking in any flavor save pepper (as if to balance its overripe neighbor). Based on these two dishes, I'd give the kitchen a gentleman's D-plus.

It must be said, however, that the prices here are reasonable — you don't find many white tablecloth seafood restaurants serving plates of fish for under 20 bucks (Legal Seafoods, of course, does come to mind, along with its policy of mercury testing its fish and offering a gluten-free menu — practices M&S has been slow to adopt). Let's hear it for the chains, which can keep their prices down by selling volume.

A dessert ($6.95) of chocolate in three layers — ganache, mousse, and cake — was forgettable. Service (from our white waiter, white food runner, and black busboy) had been just fine, if mildly overbearing, and no doubt that busboy is soon headed for promotion. Were I to return — and I doubt it — I'd probably order a couple of plates of diverse raw mollusks and something hot off the grill. Somebody in this kitchen is lacking in judgment, and the larger company may be short on progressive political savvy. But it's still pretty hard to screw up a freshly shucked oyster.

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