At sea

Clive & Stuart's island cuisine needs a culinary compass or a boardwalk

At lunch, Chef Tony, making the rounds of the room, recognized me, so from then on my visits were not anonymous; as so often happens, service wasn't wonderful anyway. At dinner, we took a long time to order, but when we finally did, it was ages before the first course came out and we waited even longer for entrees. Of course, we'd possibly been pigeonholed as leisurely laggards who were going to tie up table turnover and block more tips forever. There was a wide variety of wait staff coming and going, but our first waitress was available less and less as the evening rolled on. We were seated at probably the only bad table in the house, behind the wine cabinet, but then Gene Street was only one table over, so it's hard to complain. His service seemed fine. There was a sizable crowd in the restaurant, everyone anxious no doubt to find out exactly what island style is (or else to get their roots touched up, if they were slightly misinformed).

We ordered a bottle of Frog's Leap from the slightly pricey wine list (by-the-glass selections are printed on the side of the blue bottle that doubles as your centerpiece, but most waiters forgot to tell us that) and ordered appetizers. Calamari was fried, the waitress said, at 5,000 degrees (or something like that), so it was tenderer, crisper than the usual rubber bands. It seems like every time I eat calamari these days, someone has found a way to make it tenderer than rubber bands, which makes you wonder a little bit why a food with a tendency to taste like school supplies is so popular anyway. But this particular calamari was tenderer than any rubber band I've ever eaten. Carpaccio, strips of beefy tuna, were flavored with lime juice and coconut milk, lending the meat a ceviche-like aroma, and then accented unexpectedly with diced fruit. A giant, quivering scallop was pillowed like a crown on lobster-goat cheese grits (although the lobster was no competition for the cheese) and barely sauced with a dessert-sounding decoction of rum and mango. But ginger-beer steamed mussels took the prize. Even though I've had bigger, more succulent mussels, the fumes of ginger flavor was underscored with fresh ginger, and the resulting broth was reason alone to refill the bread basket.

The long wait for the entrees rewarded us with a variety of odd things done to fish that was all high quality, fresh, and clean-tasting. Big, sweet shrimp, completely coated in crushed pecans, came with an orange-voodoo sauce that was expectedly sweet. Mahi-mahi was presented on a big, crisp pappadum plate and topped with the pina de gallo. The spice and crunch of the lentil wafer offset the mild meat and sweet fruit nicely. But best of all was the simplest of all, and the dish least characteristic of the islands. A hefty slab of swordfish, grilled till just white, and served over garlicky tomatoes with winey balsamic vinegar and the sharp near-anise of good basil. It was more Tuscan than tropical, but the tried and true flavors married well: The seasoning set off the central flavor, and it was a dish that seemed effortlessly thought-out instead of being food for thought as much as taste. The one non-marine dish we tried, a rack of lamb, was limp and disappointing, the meat barely stiffened by fire, the accompanying bleu-cheese potatoes pale-tasting, and the roasted tomato jus unnoticeable. We liked the banana split, served for two for dessert, the scoop trio of vanilla, chocolate, and rum-raisin ice cream all made in-house. But the fruit crisp was terrible, unless you wanted to rename it a fruit bog.

Clive & Stuart's Island Seafood, 2614 McKinney Ave., (214) 871-9119. Open for lunch Monday-Friday 11:30-2 p.m., for dinner Monday- Wednesday 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m.

Clive & Stuart's:

Ginger-Beer Steamed Mussels with Mango "Streaker" and Giant Croutons $7.95

Griswald Seared Sea Scallop on Lobster-Goat Cheese Grits $8.95

Pecan-Crusted Shrimp with Creole Potato Salad and Orange-Voodoo Sauce $16.95

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with Scalloped Bleu Cheese Potatoes and Roasted Tomato Jus $23.95

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