CRAZY FISH BAR & GILL
9 Traders Cove, Port Jefferson
AMBIENCE:Separate bar and dining rooms in soothing earth tones with nautical décor and outdoor patios.
ESSENTIALS: Lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Major credit cards accepted, accepts reservations, takeout, delivery, full bar, indoor and outdoor seating, parking lot.
If it seems odd to enjoy potato tots topped with cheese sauce and skirt steak while sitting at a restaurant called the Crazy Fish Bar & Gill, it shouldn’t. At least not if you’ve been a 20-something with a paltry food budget.
I have fond memories of this dish, which I approximated as a microwave-happy undergraduate using frozen tots, a square of melted American cheese, roast beef remnants and a healthy dribble of Frank’s RedHot sauce. While I can still appreciate a funky combination of meat, potatoes and cheese, my tastes have evolved and I’m comfortable with this fancier version.
To live up to its name, this restaurant also offers seafood mainstays such as a raw bar, baked clams, fried oysters, fish tacos and grilled tuna.
In early July, Stacy and Richard Gertz opened the Crazy Fish Bar & Gill in the heart of Port Jefferson, where La Parrilla once stood. The couple know how to run a successful restaurant; they owned Panama Hatties in Huntington for about 16 years, turning it into one of Long Island’s most heralded eateries. “We’ve been living in Port for three-and-a-half years and felt like it was missing a seafood-centric restaurant,” Stacy Gertz said. “We felt like we should do this one more time.”
With all that experience, the kitchen and staff should have synergy, but they don’t, which left me foot-tapping and clock-watching from the first cocktail to dessert on recent Friday and Tuesday nights.
When it finally arrives, the tots dish succeeds by varying textures and flavors, but a similar approach fails on the seafood nachos. Thin tortilla chips turn soggy under the opulence of a cheese sauce, crème fraîche and scattered bits of mild shrimp, crab and scallops, rendering the scoopers as floppy as undercooked pizza.
There are two bivalve starters that prove to be expertly handled. The savory sauce beneath the nearly two dozen North Shore steamed mussels gets most of its flavor from roasted poblano peppers and sweetness from honey. Others in my party enjoyed the steamed clams caliente’s freshly seeded jalapeños, which are tempered in a broth of clam juice, garlic, lemon, butter and celery for a new version of a traditional preparation. While both the mussels and clams leave a mop-up-worthy sauce behind, shamefully, neither has a crusty piece of bread for dunking. The couple of fried crabcakes we ordered are spoiled by an overprocessed, could-have-been-anything filling, while the tangy, fried green tomato salad has large shards of fresh-tasting crabmeat.
The kitchen’s version of surf and turf includes a tender, 10-ounce, teriyaki-marinated skirt steak on top of a bed of wilted young spinach, served with a hefty portion of slightly grainy lobster-dotted macaroni and cheese.
The risotto under the curry-sauced Atlantic salmon fillet has a silky texture, and the fish has none of the white albumin protein that often leaches out. That sauce, too, carries lots of flavor from butter, curry powder, leeks, saffron and bay leaves. Too bad that layered seasoning doesn’t make it to sweet pea and avocado hummus that comes with the otherwise well-cooked pan-roasted halibut. Not nearly as well handled are the rubbery shrimp and calamari on top of linguine or nestled within the seafood paella.
Many of the dishes at Crazy Fish Bar & Gill have fine dining-like roots, but the restaurant has a more laid-back factor, which you can experience with a well-balanced cocktail in hand — such as the mojito or whiskey slush — on either of the outdoor patios. Just leave plenty of time for your meal.