By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
If one of the waitstaff at Go Fish Ocean Club offers to "explain" some of the menu items, waive him off, say "no, we're good" or pretend you hear the maître d' calling the waiter's name—anything. Otherwise, you must endure a discourse worthy of Edward Everett. (You know, the guy who spent two long hours at Gettysburg spouting the very same sentiments uttered by Lincoln in his two-minute address.)
He or she will point out how the rainbow tuna stack includes salmon and kampachi and a kind of crab salad, just as described on the menu. You will learn about the splash of sherry used to finish their lobster bisque, echoing the very words printed on the one-page listing. It's like grade school back in the Three R days: "read silently while I read aloud."
Eventually, the soliloquies stray from the printed text to a few personal recommendations. Chef Tiffany Derry, late of Houston's Pesce, Grotto and the Art Institute of Dallas cooking school, claims their jerk fish, carved tableside, "is turning into one of the favorites." Unfortunately, none of the waitstaff attending my table over several visits mentioned this (unless I had dozed off momentarily)—although one did nudge me toward crab-encrusted striped bass. This turns out to be a monotonous indulgence: rich, creamy and sweet, interrupted only by pinpoints of crunchy breading and a bed of braised red cabbage so thoroughly marinated it betrays a subtle, wine-like quality. The fish itself is compact and delicate, but yields to everything else on the plate.
Pecan-crusted salmon suffers from the same effect. Clean and lean and therefore too feeble to duke it out with more aggressive flavors, the fish turns belly up (figuratively), surrendering to a rather compelling cover of nuts and brown sugar. The burnt molasses flavor picks up on bitter background notes in the pecan crust while at the same time blending into its naturally mellow character. One bite awakens your palate, demanding a second and third. Sooner or later, however, it becomes another monotonous exercise. Even the sauce and a few Mandarin oranges play to the topping. The salmon simply fades from view.
Sometimes in "New American"-style cooking, chefs get carried away, piling on so many cool ingredients they end up compromising the dish. Perfect crab cakes, for instance, depend on meat, complementary seasoning and perhaps something to bind it all together. This allows the distinct flavor of crab room to roam from untouched sweetness to the more intense, caramelized scars from the pan. To chef Derry's credit, she refuses to toss breading into the mixture, instead dressing the meat with bits of root vegetable and red pepper that bolster natural flavors while adding a faintly bitter finish.
Or they should, anyway. A tide of tangy mustard—good vibrant stuff, mind you—begins to swell and erode competing elements. Although never quite dominating, the condiment continues to flail away at any subtleties.
This is how it goes at Go Fish, more often than not: beautiful ingredients, credible technique, imprudent presentation leaving one impression, and often not the expected one. A really great lobster bisque gathers depth from shell scraps, its rich mouth feel from cream and intricacy from the mirepoix—and a dash or two of liquor. Like almost any dish, it's a tightrope act in which different flavors nudge and clinch and compose and whatever else it takes to keep things balanced. But here, the bisque starts with a sharp bite, presumably sherry, followed by a passing hint of lobster before stumbling into brackish oblivion. Like the Ancient Mariner, you're confronted with a salty and ultimately dreadful prospect. They even lose control of texture, as my bowl developed a congealed skin and curious, gummy character.
The calamari comes in a pink pepper crust—just words, really, for the taste more resembles a light cereal over large strips of squid. And it's a rather sodden crust at that. Only wilted greens and a tangy, spicy, sweet chile sauce provide interest.
But these, the bisque and the calamari, represent low points in an otherwise decent experience. The striped bass was firm and flakey, the crab cakes formed around very good meat. Their spicy tuna roll draws its punch from slices of jalapeño, held in check by the intriguing vinegar-citrus taste of ponzu sauce and strips of tataki tuna. Layering tuna atop rolls containing tuna may seem a bit odd, but tataki preparation infuses the fish with mild smoke, hints of peppery ginger and other, more inscrutable flavors. Add crumbs of crunchy tempura batter and you end up with a composition at once rather robust and busy yet still somehow intricate.
The kitchen attempts the same with their rainbow tuna stack—yes, one of those kitschy Zenga foods folks ooh and ah over before stirring everything together into one big, ugly mishmash. Tuna stacks owe their existence to the relentless metronome that drives the restaurant industry, swinging one direction with the trends, the other as chefs and owners struggle to stand out from the crowd. They began as chirashi (or barasushi, or one of the other regional names), a traditional Japanese presentation of fish and other ingredients dumped over rice. Then some clever kitchen hand stratified the ingredients for better eye appeal. Nowadays, the trend has advanced to the point where it's no longer enough to build sushi towers. So Go Fish layers tuna, salmon and crab with kampachi—the popular, farm-raised Hawaiian fish—masago, nori and wasabi creme. The last ingredient develops nicely, underscoring each bite with a steady burn. And a faint pinch of vinegar dwells in the background as well.