Odd to open a restaurant named after a child's card game. In the past, chef Chris Svalesen has been more succinct. "Fish" was the downtown restaurant that made him famous. He later went obscure, naming his next restaurant after a Fahrenheit measurement: Thirty-Six Degrees, the optimum temperature at which fresh fish stays fresh (in contrast to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, which is the temperature at which rational political discourse vaporizes).
As executive chef and partner of Go Fish, Svalesen is settling in for the long haul, looking to spawn additional card game restaurants, if the capital holds up. But of course Go Fish isn't about shuffling or incessant deck dips. It's about halibut and salmon and anchovies and...lamb.
I've often wondered why places that specialize in seafood even bother with red meat. Sure, the occasional strip of bacon to bandage up a scallop is expected, but why get preoccupied with steaks and chops? Is the fish-phobic market so substantial that ignoring it would chew a lamprey welt into the bottom line? And if it is, why not just offer up a boutique burger? It would keep costs down and free up all of the creative energy for fish devotion.
Avocado soup $7
Fried green tomato salad $8
Sushi duo $13
Swordfish steak Nioise $26
Grilled halibut $18
Surf 'n' turf $46
Rack of lamb $29
King crab legs $27
Key lime pie $8
The tenderloin in the surf 'n' turf is listless. The meat is gray (instead of bloody medium rare), mealy and dry. Juice didn't flow. Richness didn't seduce and threaten heartbreak by obstructing the cardio tubes. Salt didn't help, and A-1 simply didn't come to mind. The Maine lobster body, severed in half lengthwise (only half of it rests on the plate) is rich and firm, especially in the tail. Resting in the body like a dull abused emerald are two bits of lusty tomalley. But the claw was soggy mush, though the sautéed spinach was startlingly good. Here's a question: If the tenderloin was booted would you still have a surf 'n' turf on account of that spinach?
But rack of lamb was different. For one, it didn't have sea flesh to fall back on if the wooly meat tasted like chicken or toaster pizza topping. For another, it is seasoned with garam masala (roasted ground spices) and rubbed down in Dijon mustard and seasoned bread crumbs. The rack rests in minted lamb jus. The meat is delicious, rich, racy and flaunting the purplish rose of medium rare. It isn't luxurious, but the flavors are broad and complex. But here's the problem: "pommes dauphine." Our server said they were elitist tater tots. They looked a little like waxed and buffed egg rolls, the kind that were once made by the Jeno's corporation. What they are is a fried blend of whipped potato and pâté choux, or éclair dough. They taste like glue.
It's difficult to figure out the sushi duo. Here's what the menu says: Spicy ahi tuna rolled in nori with salmon caviar, smoked salmon and cream cheese tempura roll. This is what arrived: two wagon wheel slices of rice roll with salmon, each topped with red and orange tobiko caviar. Didn't notice any salmon caviar. There was salmon in there, to be sure. But spicy ahi tuna couldn't be pulled out either. In fact, nothing on this plate was spicy if you don't count the dab of wasabi. The tuna roll was delicious. The tempura roll was not. Coating a sushi roll with tempura and frying it up seems to do little more than create a large hoop of fish gum. The inside was creamy, though--a kind of salmon mousse, so it was more of a fish gusher.
Still, you got to give this dish bonus points for sheer creativity. Resting atop one tempura roll is a spindly branch of fried soba noodles strategically dabbed in tempura and flecked with basil to impersonate foliage. It tastes as good as it decorates.
With all of the fish in here, you'd think the place would be a bit more nautical; you know, pier wood furnishings, barnacles for wainscoting and maybe waiters in crab fisherman raincoats to frighten the coeds. Instead, the dining room, shaped like a sloping "L," is crisply modern with an open kitchen tucked behind a curvaceous piece of glass etched with a flying fish, ceramic tile floors, reddish timber trim including a wine rack and granite tables that get draped in white sashes once the dinner bell rings. It's all splashed in amber chandelier light. Outside is a patio topped with an arbor. Music is piped out there, although inside, there doesn't seem to be any. It's kind of refreshing to dine in low restaurant din, without the struggle to drown it out with Kenny G.
Service is polite, if oddly paced. Stretches span endlessly between drink orders and delivery. On one visit, delicious bread sticks and bubbly sheets of seasoned fried egg roll skins in wire baskets weren't installed until after the ceviche was delivered.
And the ceviche was odd. It was kind of a hash instead of a supple and separate arrangement; more pasty salsa than a brisk fish cocktail. The fish, shrimp and diced tomato seemed mashed together. And instead of the refreshing sear of lime charged with a little capsicum, the pinch is blunted with pineapple. It's sweet. Into this mix is jammed a few large tortilla chips. Wedges of avocado hang off the side.
But this does not mean Go Fish doesn't work. It does, especially when you focus on the relevant stuff. The pound of steamed jumbo Alaskan king crab legs with drawn butter and lobster mashed potatoes was stunning. The shells were brittle and easy to crack; the meat inside was sweet, succulent and firm. Drawn butter was rancid-free.
And Go Fish doesn't leave all of the creativity to Neptune, as prolific and ingenious as he is. There is some remarkable kitchen work outside of fine fish husbandry.
Who'da thunk to make a soup out of avocado (the other green meat after lobster tomalley)? It's cold and thick, like pudding--refreshingly rich for summer, as only avocado can provide. It's clean, except for the frosty white clumps of lump crab imbedded in the center--Neptune's Cool Whip.
Fried green tomato salad is slices crusted with panko bread crumbs and corn meal before frying. The slices nap near a bed of baby arugula. Goat cheese is in there, too, as is house ranch and house smoked peach jam. Though the crust is a bit chalky, the slices are clean, juicy and tart.
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Here's an oddity: fried quail eggs resting on a piece of swordfish. They look like a pair of shriveled, glassy fish eyes, the kind you see mournfully staring at you from the head of a fried snapper. Only these two shriveled yellow yolk spots are next to each other, glaring you at you flounder-like. Those eggs rest on a smear of tomato concasse (a coarsely pulverized sauce) applied to the swordfish steak, which in turn rests on a salad of chicory frisée, haricot verts, potatoes, capers and anchovies. It's called swordfish steak Niçoise, so those shriveled quail eggs are an ingenious substitution for the chilly hard-boiled kind. It's very good, too.
Svalesen really shines brightest when he leaves his fish the hell alone. "Fresh & light from the grill" is a range of victims that includes swordfish, king salmon, Chilean sea bass, ahi tuna and jumbo sea scallops. We chose Alaskan halibut dressed in nothing but salt, pepper and fishnets from charring on a grill. It leaves you with nothing but halibut. You know it works because you don't find yourself yearning for sauces, crusts or compotes. The fish is wreathed in exquisitely grilled vegetables, mostly in the squash/tuber realm.
Dessert works wonders, too. The Key lime pie is brittle on the bottom, firm and creamy on the top and tart as hell, just what you need after swallowing fish. So Go Fish. Literally. 4950 Belt Line Road, Addison, 972-980-1919. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Monday-Friday; open for dinner 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5:30 p.m.-midnight Friday & Saturday. $$$