This is the tale of two restaurants.
Not one of those Dickensian best of- worst of- dichotomies, mind you. No, this is a story about strange but not completely off-putting flaws on one hand and a playful sophistication that turns out extraordinarily well on the other.
Just what the hell am I talking about? Compare simplistic fried calamari starter—the crust breaking apart when touched, a vague sensation of salt and oil wafting over everything, dipped into a wicked, cloying sauce of fruit and honey that would soothe only breakfast pancakes—to entree scallops seared until a light, almost molasses-flavored caramelization spooked by crystals of sea salt develops, peeking through butter refined with Chardonnay and honeycomb but somehow reminiscent of a Creamsicle in flavor. Well, many top-end restaurants these days expend their creativity on appetizers. Scan some of the menus and you'll find intriguing contrasts, unexpected developments and wild complements to once staid classics...mostly limited to the starter side of things. By the time the entrees come out, chefs skulk back to safe, tried and true formulas. But Coast Global Seafood is just the opposite, insisting upon creaky openers, sometimes clumsily fitted to condiments. They reserve genius for what follows.
Coast Global Seafood
Fried calamari $12
Crab cakes $16
Pink snapper crudo $11
Monkfish Bourguignon $32
Web extra: More photos of what Coast Global Seafood has to offer.
Again, start with crab cakes reeking from a considerable funk that wavers somewhere between muddy and fungal, resting in Dijon and crème fraîche whipped together until it resembles buttermilk, both in flavor and mouth feel. Follow this up with swordfish as tender as the slow-cooked ribs of legend that flake apart at the very approach of a fork. Chef Joshua Perkins dares to surround this beautiful fish with robust and potentially intrusive sides: a ratatouille of tomato and pepper, cooked down into a mélange; the wine-rich intensity of Pantelleria capers; and all of it soaking in citronette, the classic whisking of lemon and oil, only here powered by a little soy. He's right to dare. For instead of knocking swordfish into oblivion, the combination wraps around like a pashmina, adding warmth and character without hiding the steak.
Once more, fishing through Coast's clam chowder with a fork yields few remnants of shellfish meat—and my companion one evening muttered the word "fishing" as she searched fruitlessly for any hint of clam, offering a sardonic "you're lucky" when I chanced upon one. Instead, the hearty, landlocked heaving of bacon and starch dominates the bowl. Good Niman Ranch bacon, fortunately: smoky and sharp, mollified by a stately, mellow flavor. This wallows in gummy potato resin, making for a very fine bacon and potato stew...but a horridly miscast clam chowder. After that, sample the monkfish Bourguignon entrée, a thoroughly satisfying curiosity. Firm and resilient, able to bargain with the matter-of-fact broth, monkfish is an inspired choice to supplant beef in this dish—although the chef indeed rolls ground red meat in a cabbage leaf to provide some background heft. Hints of murky root vegetables and mushrooms trail through the base.
It's an impressive meal.
Coast is clearly working with a talented chef, but why are there so many fits in his starts?
Perhaps he's merely taking a cue from the room itself, a seemingly disjointed space divided between a handsome, serene dining space and a lounge area designed, I would guess, as an homage to the '70s fern bar, but without plants. Or maybe the bizarre dichotomy runs throughout the operation, causing such awkward gestures as the staff member posted to open only the first of a double-door entrance for incoming guests one evening.
I don't know the answer. But I suggest skipping the appetizer list and starting off with something from the raw menu.
Here again, Perkins shows his stuff. Oh, it's easy to have someone shuck fresh oysters, although his cocktail sauce is just what it should be: tangy-sweet and ripped with horseradish. But venture into the crudo, and you'll again find flashes of greatness. Marinated pink snapper—the chef seems to have an affinity for Hawaiian catches, ordering swordfish from the same waters—huddles in glistening, gossamer folds inside a circle of paper-thin cucumber speckled with sesame. Both fish and vegetable soak up the intricate yet volatile smack of soured Banyuls, the rich dessert wine in vinegar form simulating miso's earthy-tart fermentation while throwing in a touch of ripe fruit—in essence using Catalan wine to melt Asian flavors into an Italian dish.
The finale comes with the toss of a few garlic chips. Crinkled into sepia wads, they appear to be simple dressing, an effort to play with appearance instead of flavor. Bite into these odd, crisp and chewy pieces, and their purpose becomes clear: woody, bitter flares shoot through the sauce, then fan out slowly before being absorbed into the vinegar's earthy side.
For those few out there who were sorry over Pescabar's quick demise, I recommend a drive to Plano. Not only will you (and that's probably a singular "you") see what can really be done with crudo, sans phony chopsticks, but the setting invites far more tranquility than West Village. The waitstaff approach tables with great confidence, fully versed in minute details of each dish—or at least the ones I tried. Not only that, they show off suburban neighborliness in the form of ready smiles and banter that lends the impression of long association but in a brand-new addition to the planned Legacy development.
Coast Global Seafood is worth a visit. While there are better seafood restaurants in the city, the chef here at his best eschews tradition. The cute flavors that complement his presentation of scallops, the daring Bourguignon, the swordfish—yeah, maybe the swordfish, because so many kitchens turn similar ratatouilles into sad, soapy mashes, so bitter they scrunch faces—these are worthy of acclaim. And the crudo can be absolutely memorable.
Just skip the starters, at least for now. No idea why, but they are, at best, commonplace.
But it's the development itself that gives Coast a real drawing card. On a summer evening, with the fountain going through its paces—choreography scaled down quite a bit from Vegas, but choreography nonetheless—a breeze rippling across the IKEA store and through the faux avenues of Legacy II, the patio is one inviting place.
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Unlike the cramped (and equally artificial) "people-watching" scenes Uptown, it's cool and shaded.
7501 Lone Star Drive, Plano, 972-265-4722. Open 5-10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 5-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Lounge opens at 4 p.m. $$$
Clam chowder $10
Oysters on the half shell market price