Dinner at Fish Tail Willy’s

Tonight we left the house to go to Costco and Target but after noticing how empty the area restaurants seemed (since it’s *down pouring*) we decided to try the new restaurant in the Gymboree/Albertson’s plaza at US 19 & Countryside.  Mommy said it’s in the space formerly occupied by both “Shells” and “Catch 23” (which itself means they’ll have a hard time surviving).

I thought the walls were neat.  The tops of the walls were covered in mounted fish tails (sticking out, so you’re looking at the back end of fish!)

We got a booth in the back and I did FANTASTIC!  Since the booth wouldn’t accommodate a high chair (it’s elevated) I sat on the bench in the booth and gave a try to the booster chair too.  In both I did great!  Mommy and Daddy said that if I keep doing so well, I won’t have to use a high chair anymore!

Anyway, I had a great time.  But I’m not sure we’ll go back again (unless someone tells Mommy or Daddy that the food has gotten a bunch better!)  Daddy had this to say:

The menu’s a bit overwhelming.  For a restaurant you expect to focus on fish, the menu had large sections devoted to burgers and pizza.  Kind of unexpected.  Almost like they aren’t sure what their identity will be.  Gordon Ramsay (Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen) would probably say they have *way* too much on their menu and lacked an identity.  For a new restaurant, they seem to be “tasting the waters” by offering a lot of items and see if they evolve into a burgers/beer place or an upscale dining restaurant.  The restaurant certainly seems to have a fine dining aspirations (prices are done Euro style – dollar.tens of cents, so 16.9 versus 17 or 16.95).

The menu does have some ?Emeril? inspired menu items (like scallops and andouille which sounds like the subtle flavors of the scallops would be overtaken by the intensity of andouille).  However, we figured we would get a good feel of the restaurant by ordering one of our “staples”, one of their “specialties”, and one item that can be hard to get right.

We ordered Calamari as a starter (one of our staples).  It came out on the rubber band side of properly cooked.  It’s served with several sauces (which are tasty), but they’ve got some quality control issues.  (Apparently, they took it off the menu later in the evening.)  Our (including Breighton’s) favorite calamari is either at Frenchy’s on the beach in Clearwater or Dominic’s over in Oldsmar near the AMC theatre.

Breighton had spaghetti (no sauce at our request).  It was cooked perfectly al dente.  The only complaint is they served the parmesan in a “pizzeria” style shaker, but the parmesan was shredded so we had to take the top off to get any out.  Serving it in a small dish with a spoon or “fresh grating” would have been expected (especially since the child’s item is just a small serving of an adult entree.)  The parmesan was probably “KRAFT Shredded Parmesan” judging by the look and the flavor.  (By the way, the *best* daily use Parmesan is from Costco.  It’s the Kirkland brand wedges with the black label – aged 24 months.  We eat a LOT of parmesan in this house and it’s a fantastic cheese for shredding or just eating as chunks.  It’s flavor and subtle crunch are fantastic.)

Mommy ordered crab cakes.  Crab cakes are very difficult to get right and very easy to get wrong.  While they weren’t overly breaded, they were made with extremely finely shredded crab, way too salty, and the flavor off.  Given the price point, jumbo lump would have been expected.  At the very least, chunks of jumbo lump would be expected.  So, they’ve got some improvements to make before the crab cakes meet our expectations.

Daddy’s dish… Short answer: Daddy’s not feeling very well after it.  He ordered their “specialty” of the house (critically, it could be called the gimic of the house).  They bring a block (about 8x5x1.5″) of “Himalayan salt” they’ve gotten up to 500 degrees.  You cook the seafood yourself on the block.  Daddy had it with the scallops.  Well, the restaurant is going to be lucky not to kill someone with food poisoning.  The RAW scallops were dusted with paprika and brought out on the SAME plate as the the sides.  Two of the sides are in little bowls to themselves, but one of them, along with the lemon wedge, are on the same surface.  Yes, the SAME surface.  Tilt the plate when bringing it from the kitchen and any juices from the RAW scallops (or salmon, or steak, or ?shrimp? – the alternatives of this same dish) roll right over into the sides you’re supposed to eat.  Daddy loves and eats many foods raw or rare, but to have a restaurant cross-contaminate it is simply unacceptable.  Ignoring the food safety basics, this style of cooking is NOT suited to scallops and probably not to anything without a skin you can discard.  The scallops, of course, release moisture which creates a well of salt water they end up quasi-boiling in.  The result: Daddy had to wipe off the scallops on the edge of his plate and douse them with sauces to keep from gagging on the salt.  In addition, at least with the scallops, you couldn’t tell after cooking if the “crunchiness” was sand from improperly cleaned scallops that had been hidden by the paprika or chunks of salt/rock that came up as the block dissolved.

So, all in all… Will we go back?  We’ll probably try it one more time in a few months and see if they’ve worked things out.  However we aren’t hopeful.  A new restaurant should have a clean identity, even at the expense of a “small” menu.  I wish they would shorten the menu to two pages (5-7 starters, 7-10 entrees) of only fantastic items.  Instead it’s a mix of bar food and aspirations of fine/nicer seafood dining.  To sum it up: the identity really does seem to be a bar with kitschy decor (the fish tails) that serves some seafood items (but not as good as other places).  We hope they find an identity and get their kitchen into shape because it would be nice to have a good seafood restaurant nearby.  In the interim, it’s back to places like “Kelly’s For Just About… Anything”.

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