Something Fishy

Before we could even ask for some butter to make our cornbread a little more palatable, the waiter rushed by and whisked away the bread and salad. The guy was as fast (and as sneaky) as Cruella DeVille hot on the trail of Dalmatians. At the time, we would have preferred he stay a while, but when we had a need for speed, he was slow as a slug. Granted, the entire room was his domain and it kept him terribly busy, but it doesn't take so long to say, "Would you like me to remove any dishes?" Or better yet, to leave well enough alone, unless asked. Perhaps waiters should adopt that part of the Hippocratic oath that says, "First, do no harm."

Entrees at the Fishbone include five seafood dishes, two chicken concoctions, and a sausage burrito in addition to the aforementioned chalkboard specials. All are served with a side dish plus the garden salad and cornbread. They range in price from $7.75 for a dish called Chicken Nassau, which features chicken sauteed with tomatoes, onions, and garlic butter and served with garlic bread and rice, to $9.75 for the San Francisco-waterfront creation misspelled on the menu as "Choippino." This last is made to order with mussels, shrimp, scallops, clams, and other seafood tidbits in a tomato stock - a slightly different mix than in the City by the Bay, where cioppino almost always features Dungeness crabs, shrimp, and scallops.

Still basking in chili-speckled memories of his high school reunion in New Mexico last month, my dining companion could not pass up the giant sausage cheese burrito. A Frisbee-size tortilla that bulged (like love handles from hell) with filling fought for space on his platter with veggie-studded rice, lettuce, tomato, and grated carrots. The toasty burrito was topped with a snowcap of sour cream the consistency of frozen yogurt, which he promptly excavated to my plate after salvaging about a half-dozen genuine jalapeno ringlets. (Where were these at cornbread-baking time?)

After unloading the sour cream, my companion proceeded to weed peas out of the burrito's sausage filling. He found four and was only moderately distressed about the unadvertised addition of one of the many vegetables he detests. And the wonderful taste of the sausage, rice, and cheese filling - the sausage was not greasy at all and had the flavor of mild Italian - more than made up for the mutants, he said. His side dish of black beans was flawless, a small bowl of perfect, tiny, tender beans in a rich sauce flavored by cilantro and cumin. The huge sea of rice, on the other hand, did not appeal to my companion as it was studded with a rogue's gallery of veggies: kernels of corn, canned green and lima beans. To each his (or her) own. I liked the dish because of the added extras, but found the rice itself salty and dry.

I cannot complain about the portions of my own entree, the soft-shell-crab special. The meal consisted of two very large crabs, a side of yuca, and the mound of rice with vegetables. But the crabs themselves were prepared with a shocking lack of delicacy, apparently by a troupe of cloggers. I ate soft-shells for the first time at the original Dominique's in Washington, and there they looked and tasted as if the chef wore kid gloves while handling them. Here, though, the parchment-thin shells were as dark as a piece of burned toast and the meat inside was almost as dry as sawdust. The fresh cilantro on top of them was a nice touch, but I had to roll each morsel of crab around in the buttery oil that surrounded them just to swallow. The kitchen did a much better job on the sometimes tough and fibrous yuca, which was as soft as silk, perfectly steamed, and daubed with butter and cilantro.

The wine list coordinates well with the dishes and prices. Six white wines are available (two from Chile and the rest from California), and they range from the $12 Undurrago Sauvignon Blanc from Chile to the spicy and somewhat pricey ($22) 1989 Markman Chardonnay from California. The restaurant also offers a white zinfandel from California ($13) and four reds from Bordeaux, Australia, Washington State, and California that cost between $14 and $18. There's even a bottle of bubbly (Moet et Chandon White Star, $39) for those in a celebratory mood.

Although I could not cajole my newly svelte dining companion into having dessert, I ordered a slice of key lime pie for myself (pecan was also available on this particular evening) and some java for both of us. The coffees arrived almost immediately and, having deposited them, the waiter wordlessly sped off again. Long after our mugs were drained, we sat playing that all-too-familiar Miami game of trying to get the waiter's attention. Not unlike participants in a round of charades, we were forced to wave our hands furiously in the air, looking all the while like aerobics instructors run amok. We lost all interest in the pie by the time we flagged the guy down, and decided to pass on the Fishbone Grille's after-dinner treats. We would have our dessert, we decided, next door at Tobacco Road. In liquid form.

650 S. Miami Ave; 530-1915. Hours: Monday - Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Friday from 11:30 a.m. to midnight; Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to midnight.

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