Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fish Restaurant: Calamari, Sword Fish Chop & Bacon Beignets

American seafood consumption has been on a decline, and annual consumption is significantly lower than the USDA recommendations. This is despite the fact that eating seafood twice a week reduces the chances of dying from heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S., by 36%. There is a mountain of scientific evidence supporting that health statistic so why aren't Americans paying attention? It is imperative that Americans eat more seafood and dining at Fish Restaurant & Wine Bar may help motivate you.

The Fish Restaurant is located in Marlborough, easily located on Route 20, and it is only about 30 miles from Boston. You might think Marlboro is too far to go for dinner but it is well worth the short trip. And you could sit in Boston traffic for the same amount of time that it would take you to reach Marlboro. If you live north of Boston, it is easy to get to Marlboro by taking Route 128 South to Route 20 West. Route 20 West has plenty of shops, wine stores, restaurants, and other sights, and would make for a great spring or summer jaunt, ending with dinner at Fish Restaurant.

The restaurant was once named Coral Seafood and there is still a second location of Coral Seafood still existent in Worcester. Fish Restaurant is owned by George Voyiatzis, the son of Ted and Georgia Voyiatzis who originally owned Coral Seafood. Their other son, Jim, operates the Worcester restaurant, which is more of a "mom & pop" place. Fish Restaurant was a rebranding, an attempt to make a bit more upscale restaurant, but still very approachable. I was invited as a media guest to check out the restaurant, to see what it is all about. I left, well sated and impressed with what I found at Fish Restaurant.

You will find an elegant ambiance, but is far from pretentious. You can sit at the long, well-stocked bar, or at one of the tables in the bar area. Or you can choose to sit in the dining room, at one of the tables of the large semi-circular booths. It has a capacity of around 150 people, doesn't feel over crowded and sound levels seems under control. There is a more private section of booths and tables which also can be used for large groups.

Approximately a year ago, Fish Restaurant hired a new executive chef, Sasha St. Germain, who had previously been their guest chef at a winemaker dinner. Sasha is originally from the Ukraine and has worked at some top restaurants in New York City, including Tom Colicchio’s Craft restaurant, and Marcus Samuelsson's Riingo and Aquavit. He is still a young chef, and despite a bit of a shy nature, there is clear passion within him. You can see the roots of his Ukranian upbringing in some of his cuisine, especially his love for pickling. He also embraces the use of local, seasonal and more natural ingredients.

As their primary focus is seafood, they regularly send their own truck down to the Boston Fish Pier to purchase fresh fish. As the Voyiatzis family has a long history with seafood purchasing, they are very knowledgeable as to how to select and buy the best seafood. The restaurant's menu changes regularly, dependent on what seafood is seasonal and available. They also try to be sustainable, understanding that is not always easy to do. In addition, they try to purchase only organic meat, which is locally obtained if possible. Their produce also tends to be seasonal, and local when available. The most popular seafood at their restaurant tends to be scallops.

Ian Nal, is the General Manager and Beverage Director, in charge of the cocktail and wine list. He is originally from Belize, a certified sommelier, and has also worked in a number of top New York City restaurants. Ian selected and explained the wines we had accompanied to our dinner, and was personable, knowledgeable and an engaging conversationalist. He has crafted an intriguing and diverse beverage program for Fish Restaurant.

You'll find 6 beers on tap, nearly all from Massachusetts breweries, and about 11 beers by the bottle and 1 hard cider. There is a fully stocked bar and their special cocktails, priced $9-$10, are seasonal, and currently center on Winter cocktails. I started the evening with the Spanish Armada (pictured above), which is made from Torres Gran Reserva 10 year old Brandy, Fig Puree and Lustau East India Sherry. It had a prominent dried fruit and fig flavor, with some nutty elements. It was nicely balanced, without being too sweet, and I could have easily drank a few of these. I also tasted one of their forthcoming Spring cocktails, the Shy Geisha, which is made with Korean Soju. Once again, it was a well balanced cocktail, with only a mild sweetness. The Spanish Armada was a hearty choice for a cold, winter evening, while the Shy Geisha was lighter, a promise of the spring.

I was enamored with the diversity of the wine list, its intriguing blend of classic grapes and more obscure ones. They offer about 28 wines by the glass, priced $8-$19 though most range $8-$10. You'll also find over 100 wines by the bottle. You'll find plenty of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but also intriguing grapes like Bobal, Pinot Meunier, Godello, and Gruner Veltliner. Pricing is generally reasonable, and you'll find plenty of bottles priced under $50. Wine lovers will love exploring the options on this wine list. Showing its devotion to their wine program, the restaurant's staff receives wine training every two weeks.

Fish Restaurant serves both lunch and dinner, and is open seven days a week. The menu has a Raw Bar, with items such as cherrystone clams, lobster tail, and shrimp cocktail. There are also at least 5 types of oysters, most local and priced at $2.25 each. The Dinner menu includes Soups (2 choices at $8 each, like Clam Chowder), Salads (2 choices at $7-$8), Appetizers (9 choices at $10-$17), New England Favorites (3 choices at $21-$27, all fried seafood selections), Lobsters (4 choices at $25-$43), Meats (4 choices at $23-$31, beef & chicken), Surf & Turf (2 choices at $39-$43), Seafood (8 choices at $20-$30), Vegetarian (2 choices at $18-$20), Sandwiches (2 choices at $14-$21), and Sides (9 choices at $4-$8).

The menu offers plenty of choices, without overwhelming the consumer, and most of the selections are under $30. As you can see, the focus is on seafood but there are plenty of options for those who don't want seafood. Remember too that the menu changes on a regular basis, and there will likely be specials, dependent on what is available each day.

We began our meal with a Shellfish Sampler ($17), a selection of oysters, cherrystone clams, and jumbo shrimp. I've ranted before about the disturbing fact that the U.S. imports an astounding 91% of their seafood, and I have implored Americans to eat more domestic seafood. Imported shrimp is one of the largest components of this statistic. Fortunately, Fish Restaurant uses only domestic Gulf shrimp, which earns them special kudos from me. And they were good-sized and delicious, with an excellent, firm texture. The oysters and clams were very good too, each with their own unique flavor. A fine way to begin our dinner.

Our first wine of the evening was the 2010 Olivier Leflaive Aligote, a crisp and clean wine with strong minerality and hints of apple. It was an excellent match for the raw seafood, especially the briny oysters.

Our meal progressed onto some more raw seafood. The Scallop Crudo was made with a watermelon ponzu, black garlic, dill, and cantaloupe pearls. Tender scallops were enhanced by the sweetness of the black garlic, and the acidity of the ponzu helped to balance out the dish. A dish I would order again.

The Ahi Tuna Ceviche was made with an avocado mousse, sweet pickled jalapeno, and a blood orange vinaigrette. Again, the fish was silky and tender, and the fatty avocado was balanced by the acidity of the blood orange, and the mild heat of the jalapeno.

Our next wine was the 2011 Domaine Barmes-Buecher "Rosenberg" Pinot Blanc, an Alsatian wine from a Biodynamic producer. It was more full bodied, with a nice acidity, and an intriguing mix of peach and herbal notes. Alsatian white wines are excellent choices for seafood.

Moving on to a few appetizers, the Crispy Calamari ($10), with cherry peppers & miso aioli, was one of the best fried calamari I have ever tasted. The coating was clean and crisp, and the calamari could not have been any more tender. It melted in your mouth and I could have inhaled the entire dish. Even if you think you dislike calamari, this dish will change your mind. Highly recommended.

The Grilled Octopus ($12) also impressed me. Made with sherry-braised beets, radish, and green goddess dressing, the tentacle pieces were very tender, with a nice smoky flavor. It is clear the kitchen knows how to properly prepare squid and octopus to ensure it is tender and not rubbery. It is a positive sign of the quality of the kitchen.

One of the non-seafood dishes, the Duck Rillettes ($11) are topped by a red grape gelee and accompanied by cornichons and pickled onions. Smearing the rillettes on the bread, it made for an earthy and savory spread, with a little sweetness from the gelee. It was smooth and flavorful, and a nice departure from all the seafood we had enjoyed so far.

The 2011 Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier was light and fruity, with a mild touch of earthiness and spice. I've previously enjoyed older vintages of this wine, and there has apparently been some changes in their winemaking in recent years, such as the use of carbonic maceration. I liked this wine though, seeing it as similar to some lighter Pinot Noirs.

As one of our entrees, we had the Diver Scallops ($23) which have roasted fingerlings, romesco sauce, hazelnuts, and a bacon-shallot marmalade. Individually, each component worked well, and the scallops were cooked just right. However, I think there were too many components on this dish, though maybe it was more the presentation that didn't work for me. Specifically, I didn't think the romesco and marmalade worked well together. As the dish was presented, it almost seemed as if all the elements were intended to blend together. If the scallops and marmalade had been separated from the potatoes and romesco, I would have enjoyed it much more.

The Braised Short Rib ($26), with rutabaga puree, braised cippolini onions, and trumpet royal mushrooms, is for the non-fish lovers though it would please anyone. The short rib is braised for about six hours and later pressed down into large squares of very tender and flavorful meat. For a carnivore like myself, this was a compelling dish.

The highlight of the entrees was the Swordfish Chop, a special entree which is not always available. As there are only two chops on a swordfish, availability is limited and the preparation varies all the time. We had the chop topped by a chimichurri sauce, and it was meaty, moist and tender. This was a huge hunk of fish, and it was cooked perfectly, with a delectable sauce enhancing the natural flavors of the fish. Another highly recommended dish, and you might even want to call ahead before your dinner reservation to have them save you a chop.

With these entrees, I greatly enjoyed the 2009 Bodegas Mustiguillo Mestis, a Spanish red blend made of 50% Bobal, 30% Tempranillo and a mix of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. An interesting melange of flavors, including red and blue fruits, hints of spice, and a touch of smokiness. Smooth and easy drinking, but with plenty of complexity. A nice accompaniment to hearty dishes and beef.

The Dessert menu has 6 choices, priced $8-$12, and includes items from a Pear & Cranberry Cobbler to a Cheese Plate. We had two of those selections, including the Chocolate Ganache a L'Orange ($8.50) which comes with a citrus salad & lime ricotta. This dish was elegantly presented, and the chocolate was rich and creamy, with a crunchy vanilla tuile. Big enough to share, it will satisfy your sweet tooth.

My favorite though was the Cinnamon Bacon Beignets ($8), a mound of small, donut holes covered with cinnamon and bacon dust. It is accompanied by a bacon, maple caramel dip which enhanced the light, fluffy donuts. It was more of a subtle dip, without any flavor overwhelming the others. These beignets are addictive, and it is far too easy to pop one after another into your mouth, no matter how much you ate for dinner. A highly recommended dessert.

With dessert, we had a fine choice, the Blandy's 5 Year Old Malmsey Madeira. A nice, balanced taste of dried fruits, nuts, caramel and honey. More people need to enjoy Madeira.

The restaurant possesses an admirable philosophy on sourcing, attempting to be sustainable, seasonal and local, balanced by the difficulties and practicalities of operating a restaurant. Their beverage program is also admirable, with seasonal cocktails and an intriguing and diverse wine list. Kudos to Ian for all his work in regards to the cocktails and wine. The food is prepared well, and the quality and quantity of each dish is compelling. Kudos to Chef St. Germain for his work in the kitchen, and retaining him as their new Executive Chef was a great idea. I cannot wait to return to Fish Restaurant, to check out lunch and other items on the dinner menu. It garners my highest recommendation and I strongly encourage my readers to check it out.

FISH Restaurant & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Michelle Lahey said...

Great review, as always. I'm eager to return, too - I'm still dreaming of that octopus!