By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
Then there was me, the youngest of the bunch and the most inept. Fast-running streams made me feel like wetting my pants. When I fished under lily pads, I caught lily pads. And boats in general ... well, let's just say I've always been prone to motion sickness. The last time I enjoyed fishing was when I was four years old, and I have the snapshot to prove it: me standing about two feet tall wearing a sun dress and proudly displaying a two-inch sunfish it had taken me hours to hook.
Though my mother dealt gamely with dozens of perch too small to do anything with but make soup, and freezers full of bluefish steaks (in the days when bluefish -- a large, fighting member of the mackerel family -- was still considered inedible), she hated fishing too, and when I grew old enough to voice my objections to the sport, I stayed home with her. While the rest of the clan traipsed off to the Thousand Islands to rough it with the pike, Mom and I gorged on restaurant food. Chinese, Italian, Jewish delicatessen. And seafood. Always my mentor, Mom taught me the landlubber's solution to the catch-of-the-day dilemma: You order it.
Catch of the Day Raw Bar and Grill
1050 N. Le Jeune Rd.; 448-7810. Open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.
The interior, emphasizing warped wood floors and seaside souvenirs, defies the traffic-clogged airport-environs setting of this rustic mariner's shack. And the great Cuban-influenced seafood defies the vague air of decay that permeates the building -- there's nothing the least bit old about the fresh grouper and snapper served here.
I always look for conch fritters like these but seldom find them. Deep-fried nuggets reminiscent of potato pancakes were served steaming hot, their moist, puffy insides flecked with green pepper and packed with more conch than batter. Dunk one in the house-mixed, horseradish-endowed cocktail sauce, take a bite, and be transported to Key West. If you want to travel farther south in your imagination, try the delicious lobster empanada, whose potato-and-shellfish filling provides a perfect textural foil for the turnover's light, flaky crust. A host of other appetizers, including fried calamari, fish fingers, fried shrimp, and chicken wings, tempts the happy-hour appetite, but the empanada is essential to the Catch experience.
Also mandatory is the soup of the day, usually some form of chowder. We savored the saffron-rich aroma of a hearty grouper soup for a moment before inhaling it. Flaky fish, hunks of potato, and white rice make this filling starter a significant prelude to a meal rounded out with fish or shrimp ceviche, clams, or oysters from the raw bar.
Main courses such as pescador linguine a la marinara, shrimp scampi, paella, and even palomilla steak might be appropriate for dinner, but the lunch staple is definitely the fish sandwich. Coated in a light egg batter and grilled or fried to a flaky finish, the snapper was delicate and sweet, sandwiched on a roll with lettuce, tomato, and onions, and accompanied by crisp French fries.
Catch is a come-as-you-are kind of place, and the attitude toward cleaning up can be just as casual. Our waitress swept the remains of our lunch from the table onto the floor, where deep grooves threaten to cradle debris for eternity. One wonders how hard it would be to utilize a bus bucket -- after all, if fish can be caught daily, so can crumbs.
6480 SW Eighth St.; 261-2406. Open daily from noon to 11:00 p.m.
Named after the popular seaside Cuban restaurant El Covadonga and rigged out in shipboard gear (ropes, lanterns, and casks abound, as do waiters in captain's uniforms), this fine seafood restaurant could just about set sail. You almost expect the creaking of the hull and the tang of salt air. Instead you get the horns and exhaust from Eighth Street and, if you go on a Sunday, a guitarist backed by an electronic drumbeat singing "La Bamba" and "Macarena."
You also get one of the best Cuban meals in town. Pricier and more upscale than most, the menu features seafood almost exclusively, though some steaks and chops are available for the fishophobic. Clams in green sauce were an excellent example of what the kitchen does with shellfish. This starter comprised a half-dozen exquisitely fresh large clams doused with a savory, buttery sauce and served in the shell. Dotted with parsley and garlic, the sauce was more like a broth, perfect to sop up with slices of Cuban bread. Another well-prepared appetizer, shrimp in garlic sauce, was presented sizzling in a terra cotta bowl, the five plump shrimp still cooking on the bed of browned garlic. The only drawback was waiting until it cooled down enough to eat it.