Restaurant Review: F.I.S.H., Stamford
A blue martini accompanies the grand grilled Spanish octopus.
All images by Jeff Kaufman
F.I.S.H.’s sophisticated, mod-elegant, urbane decor and trendy menu dotted with buzzwords (shaved Brussels sprouts, aji, pickled ginger, gluten-free) is a far cry from seafood emporiums of yore. Ornamented with fishing nets and conch shells, with a lobster on the roof and an anchor beside the front door, these venerable institutions proffered (and a few still do) some of the best New England clam chowder in the world, along with every denizen of the deep, deep-fat fried, to be enjoyed with a mug of suds from the bar.
At F.I.S.H. creative cocktails are the name of the game —bottomless mimosas are made with fresh-squeezed o.j. and the Bloody Marys are the talk of the street.
But what F.I.S.H. does best is focus on its mission, which is spelled out in the name: Fresh Innovative Seafood House. I can’t think of another place where so many varieties are available and prepared in so many ways—including a sort of do-it-yourself option called “Naked Fish” that invites you to choose your fish, pan-seared, grilled or blackened, enhance it with one of six chef-created sauces and your choice of vegetable sides.
Eager for the opportunity to create a culinary masterpiece without lifting a finger, I zeroed in on the “Naked” section of the menu and paired grilled Scottish salmon with Bearnaise Royale sauce, an outrageously rich, creamy creation spiked with lemon, bejeweled with shrimp and lump crabmeat.
Fast forward: I loved it. I gobbled it up. Not your cup of tea? Of course not. Maybe nobody’s. That’s the point. At F.I.S.H., your wish is the chef’s command. Plain or fancy, it’s your call.
Sample the appetizer list first, which we did, starting with lobster and crawfish chowder, a wonderfully complex, nuanced bisque studded with gently cooked little morsels of lobster meat. Spanish octopus with haricots vert, potatoes and olives was another winner. Rumor has it that the chef cooks the octopus sous vide style and finishes it on a red hot grill. I can’t vouch for that, but the result was flavorful, tender and a tiny bit chewy, tinged with just the right amount of char. Black olives and slices of cooked potato were perfect accoutrements, reminding me of similar dishes I’ve enjoyed in Spain.
|F.I.S.H.'s tuna carpaccio flat bread.|
We ordered two salads for the table. The avocado and shrimp salad, consisting of whole shrimp, diced avocado, endive and quite a few other greens and veggies was a bit too chunky for me — all that chewing— but chopped salad fans might disagree.
I much preferred a salad made with shaved Brussels sprouts. Once spurned, these cute little cabbages are enjoying a wild surge of popularity. Not everyone likes the taste (probably because in times past they were often cooked to death) so now chefs feel obliged to scurry around thinking up ways to make them more appetizing. A subtly sybaritic salad with shaved raw Brussels sprouts, chopped hazelnuts, Grana Padano and truffle vinaigrette that wafted its way to our table was a case in point. Health food never tasted so good.
In an attempt to appeal to all markets, some seafood restaurant menus list more cuts of red meat than the steakhouse down the street. With the exception of one dish (filet mignon with two stuffed shrimp), F.I.S.H. succumbs to no such ambivalence. At the same time, management is well aware that in today’s health-conscious world vegetables are integral to almost any dietary regime. Accordingly, a farm’s worth of fresh veggies appear, cooked or raw, in appetizers, salads, plated with entrées or available as sides. Two other salads were available in addition to the two we ordered: salmon came on a bed of haricots verte; in a section of the menu called “Modern Comfort Foods,” portobella mushroom ravioli (gluten free) came with fresh asparagus and chive cream sauce. Vegetarians will find a lot to love about F.I.S.H. and so did we.
While more and more restaurants are charging customers for bread with their meals, F.I.S.H. sends out fresh bread in a stylish metal basket along with a ramekin of whipped butter, as a matter of course. Besides being a gracious, hospitable gesture, bread is far from extraneous when it comes to soaking up the delectable, good-to-the-last drop sauces that come with so many shellfish dishes.
We had fun picking and choosing different sauces for each of our very different entrées: Capers and lemon to enhance but not overpower the delicate flavor of pan-roasted bronzino, a.k.a. Mediterranean sea bass, currently the trendiest fish in town. Crawfish and chive beurre blanc for Georges Bank scallops. And my favorite — a red coconut curry sauce with lemon grass and lime that turned P.E.I. mussels into ambrosia.
We were happy with all of our entrées except one — ricotta gnocchi with lobster. The fault, in this instance, was in the pasta, which was dense and heavy, not in the pink tomato cream sauce, which was delectable.
And so to desserts: Two stood out—Banana cream pie made with fresh bananas and cream, and tiramisu made with coconut mascarpone and ladyfingers soaked in rum. Key lime pie, ice cream and New York cheesecake were less interesting, at least to me, because I was beguiled by the “After Dinner Drinks” list, which ranged from amaretto to ouzo, Frangelico to Irish Manor Cream, anisette to Hennessey and sambuca—not to mention bicerin, a hot chocolate espresso drink not well known in the States but famous in Turin, Italy, where I happened to be recently. Every drink has a story. Toast your own. Cin Cin.
245 Bedford St., Stamford, (203) 724-9300, fishstamford.com
Hours: Lunch and dinner, Mon. through Thurs. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Appetizers: $8 to $15; entrées: $20 to $32; dessert: $2 to $9. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards.