Bone to Pick

Diners dig (for) their fish at Bonefish Grill.

Somebody should remind the folks at the Bonefish Grill that they're in Seattle. The rapidly growingand unfortunately namedFlorida-based chain set up camp here this fall with the peculiar mission to prepare fish for people who don't love fish. In other words, they're taking perfectly fine slabs of King salmon, Idaho rainbow trout, and others, smothering them in bland butter sauces and mango salsas, and trying to sneak it under diners' fish-abhorring noses like mothers who dress their children's vegetables in brown sugar. Trouble is, Seattleites like fish. That's why we live here. We want our halibut seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon, not drowned in a puddle of lime-tomato-garlic sauce. That frou-frou business may go over well in St. Petersburg, but it doesn't fly in the Pacific Northwest. Bonefish's arrival in Seattle is a rather embarrassing misstep, somewhat on par with a South Dakotan moving to New York to sell pizzas dipped in chocolate and powdered sugar. The good news is that Bonefish uses high-quality fresh fish. It's seasoned and cooked over a wood-burning grill, and it's goodafter scraping off about a half a cup or more of dulling, characterless sauce and a pile of garnish. The challenge for Bonefish will be convincing diners that all that excavating is worth it in a town where good seafood is abundant. Their upscale-corporate-chain generic dining room isn't any more enticing than their location in a South Lake Union complex of mediocrity, sandwiched between an Outback Steakhouse and Jillian's Billiard Club. They do serve a fun Hpnotiq cocktail, up with a glowing neon blue swizzle stick ("Hpnotiq Martini," $7.20) but, alas, one inspired cocktail cannot carry a restaurant. Especially not one that serves endangered Chilean sea bass, a fish many chefs have sworn off to save the tasty, prehistoric-looking tooth fish from extinction. Seattleites love fish enough to refrain from certain varieties just to preserve them. Bonefish should have considered that when the 60-plus-location chain was running the numbers on a move here. Order salmon ($16.70), mahi mahi ($16.70), swordfish ($19.90), or another grilled fish and you can choose your sauceoh, happy dayas well as one of their "awesome side items." It's like those old Choose Your Own Adventure books, but without the fun, because sides like angel hair pasta and potatoes au gratin taste less "awesome" than "microwaved." With luck, Bonefish will do a good enough business with tourists and the floating-bridge crowd. More abhorrent restaurants have managed to survive here. There's probably enough dough behind Bonefish to keep it going for decades. Unfortunately, by that time Chilean sea bass will probably be extinct.

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