At his cheerful, red-white-and-blue seafood house, executive chef Michael Gataleta goes fishing for compliments. His bait? A modern menu of lively seafood dishes, augmented by snappy, non-fish items.
I'm hooked right away by the bowl of salty-sweet popcorn that serves as a bread basket — and is better than most, these days. It's hard to stop munching, especially since replenishment is constantly offered.
What fun, sampling a trio of seafood sliders: a mini lump crabcake with blood orange aioli, a shrimp and bacon burger with lobster mayo, and an ahi tuna burger topped with wasabi tartare, all served on toasted mini rolls and plated with terrific house-made Cajun potato chips. Don't tell your cardiologist about Gataleta's wicked "French-y dumplings" — French onion soup that's frozen, formed into balls and stuffed inside wonton wrappers before being deep fried and topped with melted Gruyere. Then, there's his thick, creamy crab and tomato bisque.
Less sinful, yet even more enjoyable, is a spicy adobe-seared tuna steak, gorgeously rare, plated with wasabi cream and addictive shrimp fried rice. Al dente linguine with fresh clams in a white wine, herb and garlic sauce is briny and bright.
All the seafood is adeptly cooked in the ocean risotto made with shrimp, mussels, crab and calamari. A fish-phobic friend orders grilled skirt steak with hand-cut Parmesan truffle fries. Even though there's no hint of truffle, everything on the plate works.
Opulent house-made cheesecake (Gataleta has switched from the original white chocolate raspberry to a more summery Key lime) comes with freshly whipped cream. Frozen mile-high mud pie, from an outside source, is a chilly treat.
Lobster mac bites (deep fried lobster mac 'n' cheese pieces) are bland, while overcooked fish undermines the creative salmon BLT. And I'm not a fan of the boring beige pan-seared snapper.
Creative seafood such as this usually comes at a much higher price — which is why reservations (especially on weekends) are essential.