By David Minsky
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Not so. This appetizer came out looking like a plate of ham hocks. The "prosciutto" wrapping the shrimp was easily a quarter-inch thick, so tough it was nearly impossible to cut through without making the entire dish disintegrate. That poor shrimp might as well have been swaddled in slabs of Canadian bacon. I say "poor shrimp" because anyone who loves a shrimp (and I do, I do) knows that this beautiful little crustacean, when eaten fresh, has a lovely, ethereal flavor, light as a puff of sea air, and a toothsome, almost squeaky texture unlike any other seafood. Prosciutto, on the other hand, even when sliced paper-thin as it should be, has a rich, warm, earthy, salty, ancient feel on the palate. Too much would overwhelm almost any other food you can think of (which is why we're used to seeing it served in transparent waves). Add the assertive gaminess of goat cheese and your shrimp is dead in the water.
I'm dissecting this dish-gone-wrong in such detail because it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of the chefs. Had they tasted this concoction in the kitchen and decided it was a winner? If so, what drug were they inhaling?
Let's turn now to a similar appetizer served at Bonefish Grill. This one has the requisite cutesy name: saucy shrimp. And a price tag we can swallow with ease: $7.90. The ingredients here bear a familial resemblance to the one we've just discussed: gulf shrimp (medium-sized, a lot of them), kalamata olives (a few), feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and a light lime-garlic-tomato sauce. We took a bite and could barely believe our luck. It was scrumptious.
9897 Lake Worth Road
Lake Worth, FL 33467
Region: Lake Worth
Here you have the same basic idea — delicate shrimp paired with flavors that convey depth and age — the olives, the tomatoes, the feta. But instead of murdering those pretty shrimp, the sweet-sourness of the tomato and olive, the saltiness of the feta, and the squeeze of lime in the subtle tomato sauce enhanced the shellfish. It was so thoroughly delightful that I wanted to buttonhole the chef for the recipe. I'd proudly serve this at home. The test kitchen at Bonefish had nailed it.
What's the difference between these two shrimps? One tastes good. The other doesn't.
Funny how, despite the best, most creative efforts of any chef, it all comes down to one simple proposition. It doesn't matter a lick if your entrée is composed of truffle gas and gold dust — it's only going to work if it delights both the eye and the tongue. There's your acid test. As a chef, you fail it at your peril.
Bonefish Grill is not a perfect restaurant either. Our bland crab chowder wasn't worth the effort of spoon to mouth; the piccata sauce on a slab of grouper ($22.30) was disappointingly flavorless. But a lively green salad and the crisp, buttery steamed veg that came with the entrée balanced the books. Kate's Whitefish ($20), a freshwater lake fish, had a fine flake and a delicious crust.
Not rocket science, this menu — it's been developed for ease and speed. But you can overlook a bland soup that costs you $2.80 if there are other courses to make up for it. I'd forgive just about any gaffe for that saucy shrimp and the brownie we had for dessert.
Upper Crust had also failed to leap the dessert hurdle. As pretty as its colorfully drizzled plates were, the chocolate soufflé cake ($5.75) had no discernible flavor beyond "sweet," and the berry tart ($7.25) was just an embarrassment — doughy crust, bland custard, and baked berries that wouldn't win a contest against I-Hop's blueberry pancakes.
Once again, Bonefish aced it. Its chocolate brownie ($5.50) is superb. An enormous hunk of cake: gooey, dark, and deep, considerably livened by a couple of extra pinches of salt to draw out every nuance. It's served with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and luscious whipped cream. Un-freaking-believable!
And there's your exclamation point. You can't subdue your punctuation when the chef deserves a shoutout.