King Street bustles. Tourists and locals shop, dine, and stroll from the early morning until the last call for alcohol. A coffee and a bagel in the a.m., a new book to read from Blue Bicycle Books, and a light lunch will satisfy the day. As the sun goes down, the party-goers come out. Hoards of eager college kids and young professionals seek out the hot-spots for a night of entertainment. Take a walk along Upper King after 11 p.m. and you will see a line of frolicking patrons eagerly waiting to get into what appears to be a lively club. But what is this place?
It's called Fish. It's a quick stop for lunch and happy hour that transforms into a trendy, bass-bumping hangout on Saturday nights. Wednesdays are more laid-back with clean-cut business types trading workday horror stories while guzzling half-off wines and scarfing down $1 dim sum. Thursdays bring in a mixed crowd of young and old to see what head bartender/manager Evan Powell's current cocktail creation is.
On any night, options abound. Will you eat in the lively, loud bar area or the more tamed, dimmed dining room? Will you play it safe by ordering fish or take a risk by ordering something from the land with a twist? It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
At lunchtime, sun shines through the large front window as patrons line up at the bar to order a $10 fixed-price lunch, which includes tax and a non-alcoholic drink of choice. A stack of small paper menus sit on the bar alongside pencils. Check the boxes and order like you would at a sushi joint. The menu looks simple, but it's confusing — so confusing that I overheard several people say so during one visit. One diner observed, "I've been here for lunch three times, and I'm still confused as to what I'm supposed to do every time." You have the option of moo shu (rice wraps, sushi rice, daikon, green onions, carrots, cilantro, and red onions), chopped salad, soup, or a combination of two. For each option you can only select a single protein and sauce. When you order a combo, you have to fill out two sections and leave out a side. The bartender will promptly let you know of the error in your order once you turn in your marked-up menu.
At a recent lunch, the marinated shrimp was juicy with just the right amount of seasoning, and the moo shu wrap was simple, yet satisfying. The salad was decent but could've gone without the Chex mix on top, and the cucumbers seemed to be pickled, which was a bit strange. Fresh cucumbers would've been just fine. The edamame coleslaw was a refreshing blend of soy beans and haricots verts topped with shaved radish and a tangy aioli. Amid all the ordering confusion, the bar area was packed and local patrons seemed satisfied with the quick, Asian-style lunch, which is admittedly a very good deal for the area.
The dinner menu is huge, heavy, and metal, making for an awkward perusal. Offerings are a quirky combination of Asian and French cuisine, with sections such as dim sum ($8) and fromage du jour ($8). The dim sum plate is a popular starter, but the options are hit or miss. The caramel pork belly with chive blini was sin on a plate. The succulent pork fat was tender and salty and melted like butter. The crispy, hot Thai shrimp roll was scrumptious with a sweet chili ponzu. The duck confit was tender, savory, and piled onto a steamed roll with a tangy, yet pungent truffled goat cheese. But I wouldn't stray outside of the three aforementioned selections. The crispy chicken was so dry and flavorless that not even the Thai remoulade could bring it to life. The arid fish slider crumbled apart at the first touch, and the crab wonton was mediocre at best. Crispy and bland, it's what you'd find at any Asian carryout.
Other starters included a whole steamed artichoke ($8) and tuna tartare ($9). The steamed artichoke was either steamed for too long or reheated later on. The heart inside was a greenish-gray, mushy mess — simply inedible. The tuna tartare was a better option, as it should be at a place called Fish. The balance between the tuna, cucumber, red pepper, and shallots was pleasing, and the chive crème fraiche added a slight tanginess that lingered after every bite.
Entrées include a Chicken Cordon Bleu ($19), which takes a step away from the traditional dish by stuffing a chicken breast with goat cheese and then wrapping it in pancetta. The breast rests on top of a bed of arugula, dancing with shaved fennel and thinly sliced, buttery potatoes. This part of the dish alone would be spot on, but after being doused in a thick, overly sweet blueberry demi-glaze, the subtleties of the goat cheese, pancetta, and chicken flavors were nowhere to be found.
The Beef Wellington ($23) came out bistro-style, with sliced medallions arranged around the pastry in a puddle of thick peppercorn cream sauce with peas and wild mushrooms. Some of the medallions were medium rare, some medium, and others medium well. The pastry itself was crunchy, but the portabella mushroom blend inside was bland, and the swiss cheese should have been left out completely. One bite of the pastry and a sample of the medallions that were cooked to medium/medium rare was more than enough. It was like a bad dance remix of a Beatles song: Sometimes the classics should be left well enough alone.
At Fish, the obvious route to take is the seafood one, which ensures a much better outcome. Striped bass ($24) was a special during one visit. The delicate filet came out on a bed of butter beans, blue crab, bacon lardon, fennel, and sun-dried tomatoes, with lemongrass corn cream. The presentation was marvelous and the smell of the sea was in the air. The fish was moist and fresh, and the blue crab added a butteriness to the dish. A little less cream would've done wonders, but other than that, it was enjoyable. The pan-seared scallops ($23) came with a creamy avocado jasmine rice, earthy roasted mushrooms, peas, and grilled watermelon. A bit more seasoning and a better sear on both sides of the scallops would've been nice, as they were slightly undercooked and lacked flavor.
The restaurant is divided into three main dining areas. The main bar is long and narrow, with a couple tables viewing King Street near the window and a few high tops adjacent to the bar. Shards of blue-stained glass hang from the ceiling, creating the image of being under the sea as you sip on a ginger fizz. Two corridors lead to a small café-style room, which carries the loud noise of gossip and music from the bar. Upstairs, a long balcony overlooks King Street, where a couple might share a bottle of Riesling to cap off a successful day of shopping and sight-seeing.
For dinner, you should be seated in the main dining room, which is set apart from the bar by a small, quaint courtyard. It's peaceful, quiet, and feels likes like a completely different restaurant. The windows and ceiling are covered in fine white netting. A wavy row of candles line weathered mirrors, and a giant wicker chandelier softly illuminates the room. The hush of the space allows for an enjoyable dining experience with your date.
Fish is packed, night after night. My first adventure here was a social happy hour at the bar, and I had high hopes for the full dining experience. But the quality and consistency of the food fell short. Maybe I opted to go with land, as opposed to sea, too many times? Or did the kitchen just have a couple of off-nights? Who knows? What adventure would I choose if I went again? For starters, I'd flip the page to Thursday happy hour to enjoy $4 mixed drinks and half-off appetizers like the tuna tartare. Then at 7 p.m., I'd be there to hear the soulful voice of Elise Testone. If I'm feeling lucky I'd order a seafood entrée and be confident that the story would end a happy one.