Friday, January 19, 2007

Fish City Grill

The idea of Fish City Grill sounds suspicious: a seafood franchise originating in landlocked Dallas, a Houston location in a West U strip mall, overly cheery waitstaff who greet everyone repeatedly, and a something-for-everyone menu without no stylistic focus. Yet it fills a particular need.

For a long time, I have wanted a mid-priced seafood restaurant, near my house, with a broad selection and simple preparations that emphasize the fish. This is hard to find because most Houston seafood restaurants fall into these niches:

-high-end expensive seafood (Pesce, McCormick & Schmick's, Oceanaire);
-highly spiced, buttery Cajun seafood (Pappadeaux, Zydeco Louisiana Diner, Goode Co.);
-fried seafood joints (Boudreaux's, Rajin' Cajun);
-Mexican/Chinese fried seafood joints (Mambo, Golden Seafood House, Connie's Seafood); and

These restuarants don't specialize in good, cheap, simply cooked fish.

But Fish City Grill does. In fact, it has almost every common preparation of seafood, except sushi. On their basic menu, you can order shrimp, catfish, tilapia, and Atlantic salmon. You can get it grilled, blackened, fried, on a salad, on a sandwich, or on pasta. You can get flavorings like Mexican (oyster nachos and fish tacos), Cajun (po-boys, blackened fish), Asian (Thai coconut shrimp, Thai chili oysters, grilled salmon salad with Asian noodles), or you can get just the fish. These menu items are all under $10. But I have avoided them because fish like catfish, tilapia, and Atlantic salmon are usually inferior. They are farmed, and, unless you fry them or smother them in spice, they usually taste too muddy or too much like dog food.

So I gravitate to the slightly more expensive specials board. It has 8 or 9 different kinds of fresh seafood, like grouper, flounder, roughy, and scallops. They are usually priced between $10 and $16. Last night, I had macadamian crusted orange roughy with pineapple salsa. The crust was very light and the salsa gave just enough flavor to make the dish interesting, without overwhelming the high-quality fish, which was flaky and not overcooked. The sides were mixed quality. I loved the green beans with strips of red peppers, cooked al dente with a little vinegar. But the fried new potatoes tasted like they had been recently frozen.

Fish City Grill is a family restaurant. From the kid's menu, my daughter ordered chicken strips and waffle fries, and then ordered a key lime pie. She liked it all.

Of course, like most family restaurants, the wine list is lousy. It is dominated by over-oaked California chardonnays.

Fish City Grill has little character, originality, charm, or style. But it has inexpensive, good quality seafood, cooked almost any way you might like.


marcy said...

You should try the Mexican snapper at Tampico on Airline near Loop 610 North. I know it's not close to your house but it is definitely worth the drive. The fish arrives at your table complete with head, tail and lusicous meat that is easily pulled away from the bones. Do yourself a favor and order some shrimp and scallops along with your fish and you'll walk away stuffed to the gills (pun intended).

anonymouseater said...

Thanks for the suggestion. Actually, I tried Tampico a few years ago. It was good, but I don't think I ordered the Mexican snapper. It is close to my office, so I will try it again soon.

Daniel Goldberg said...

I think Goode Co Seafood fits the market you identify quite nicely.

anonymouseater said...

Hi Daniel. Good point. I like Goode Co., but I find that its preparations -- particularly the mesquite grilled fish -- resemble the Cajun category. In other words, more of the flavor comes from spices than the fish. Although Goode Co. has more character than Fish City Grill, Fish City seems to have better quality fish and preaparations that focus more on the fish itself.

Anonymous said...

Take it from an inside source: The fish is never fresh - everything, and I mean EVERYTHING frozen for weeks on end. The specials board are simply fish on the day before expiration. All of the fish is imported from Chinese sewage infested swamps (keeps the price down - with a place like Oceanare, for example, you get what you pay for.)