With a name like Bonefish Grill, you might expect a place to be draped in angler’s nets and stuffed to the gills with antique tackle and lures.
But, like McCormick Schmick’s, say, or Boston’s Legal Sea Foods, Bonefish Grill wraps itself in refined wood finishes and suburban restraint.
“It’s dark in here,” said She Who Is Not Easily Pleased as we were shown our bar-area booth.
Uh-oh, we’re in for a downer,
went my inner-attitude gauge.
Lo and behold, it wasn’t 5 minutes later, after servers, managers and drink slingers came and went, that She Who was singing a new tune: “Service must be their middle name.”
What she didn’t know was that Bonefish Grill, which has two area locations, is a casual chain with a solid reputation for service and food. In a Zagat online survey last year, it ranked as top overall restaurant (among 137 chains) as well as No. 1 in seafood and service. We had mixed feelings after our first dinner but came away from the second in a pretty good mood.
The first night I was impressed by a thinly cut, tender swordfish steak accented nicely with a few dollops of chimichurri, a savory sauce like a South American pesto.
A sashimi appetizer made less of an impression, and I was downright dejected that the side of supposedly fresh and seasonal asparagus ($1 extra) came out wrinkled, limp and chewy, as if it had fallen asleep in the steam bath.
Everybody loves soft-shell crab season, right? Sorry, but I’ve never quite understood the attraction. There always seems to be less than meets the eye, and I don’t care how soft the shell might be, you’re still bound to be picking a few bits out of your teeth.
Our soft-shell crab entrée at Bonefish Grill did nothing to change my mind and caused She Who to announce a few days later that she’s done ordering the dish after too many disappointments.
Maybe you have to live and dine in Maryland to get the true essence of this short-term delicacy.
But talk about disappointment. For our second meal, we headed with some friends up north to yet another suburban strip mall, and amid our convivial repast, I noted that diners at two adjacent tables were crestfallen to learn that the soft-shell crab special was unavailable, sold out. It was a holiday weekend, the place was packed, and I wasn’t surprised.
At one of those tables, a string of mishaps brought the manager out for a long sit-down chat with the unhappy couple. And he returned several times over the next 30 minutes. Of course, I tried to eavesdrop, but I caught only the occasional comment, including the man’s assertion that he was a longtime Bonefish customer and really loved the place but tonight had been a disaster.
I’m pretty sure the couple got comped and dessert to boot, but they also seemed to appreciate the manager’s calm demeanor and gestures.
We had much better luck at our table. We started with the Bang Bang Shrimp, a Bonefish favorite. A good number of smallish shrimp, with breading so slight it mostly disappeared, came slathered in a chile-fied mayo and sitting on a bed of greens. The shrimp were addictive. Corn chowder, a bowl of slightly sweet creaminess, went down like butter, though I suppose I ate it too fast to notice more than a sliver of the promised lump crab.
I’m not a big fan of fussy seafood preparations. Very good fish is quite capable of speaking for itself. So I wondered if a couple of this night’s specials weren’t trying too hard, like the white tuna in a jalapeño bacon cream sauce.
Still, I opted to try the prosciutto-wrapped monkfish with mushrooms in a Marsala sauce and was pleasantly surprised to find the fish medallions still tender and the whole package rather appealing.
She Who was happy with the over-stuffed Longfin Tilapia Imperial — our server said it was the restaurant’s most popular entrée — which found the mild white fish packed to overflowing with a lemon-buttered medley of shrimp, scallop and crab chunks.
Our friends ordered from the gluten-free menu and were thrilled with their grilled rainbow trout and Chilean sea bass. For the seafood-averse, the restaurant also offers chicken, steaks and a pork chop.
After devouring the Key lime pie on our earlier visit, we jumped at a dessert special. It was a very light bread pudding topped with a peanut butter gelato and raspberry sauce (our de-glutenized friends skipped the pudding). While we spooned through it, I noticed that the gelato was a beige hue, about the same color as the wrapping paper that topped our vinyl-covered tables and much of the wall covering beneath the fish-themed artworks.
It’s tempting to go on about the beige-ness of it all, but despite some of its hiccups, this chain knows how to hook ’em.