Fresh Seafood Minus the Sea
There are a few types of restaurants that are virtually impossible to find here in Miami-Dade County, including: (1) a Chinese restaurant featuring a tank filled with swimming seafood that diners can eat, not just watch; (2) any place with genuine Ipswich fried clams, whole specimens with that marvelous contrast between slightly chewy "tail" and soft belly, not tough, fried, rubber-band sea-clam strips.
Sadly real New England fried clams are not to be found at the Fish House. If they were, though, I suspect they'd be prepared just right, because the rest of the place's fried seafood is. Forget heavy egg-and-crumb coatings and exploding beer batters that result in a plate of seafood that's more starch than protein. The shrimp, scallops, calamari, mussels, and mahi-mahi nuggets in a $12 fried combo platter were all simply dusted in flour that cooked up crisp, light, and nearly greaseless. Fried belly clams aside, the Fish House pretty much fills every classic definition of another type of eatery that's in short supply in Miami -- an old-fashioned, mom-and-pop seafood shack.
There is, however, no sea in this seafood establishment. The place is not located on the ocean -- or a lake or a canal or even next to a swimming pool. But a sense of humor goes a long way toward making up for the landlocked location. The restaurant does have an "Ocean View Room," laughs Angela Rivera, the vivacious and very hands-on owner, who works both the dining areas and the kitchen with the authority of a jolly sea captain. The cavernous "Presidential Room," dominated by a humongous American flag, is reminiscent of a VFW hall, and the "Garden View Room" overlooks a parking lot. In contrast, the rustic wood paneling, along with a complete lack of windows in the Ocean View Room, made it easy to imagine breakers rolling in outside.
The food helped the hallucination considerably, starting with the daily homemade smoked fish spread that comes gratis with all meals and is accompanied by good crusty rolls. Made with a minimum of mayonnaise, the dip was surprisingly subtle, livened with a bit of lemon and not overwhelmed by the element that mars most similar spreads: too much smokiness. The Fish House's smooth, delicately tangy spread was unquestionably good enough to make an additional order irresistible (75 cents for an ounce). This is one of Miami's best.
Most seafood can be ordered fried as well as blackened, grilled, or with scampi butter, creole, portobello, or parmesan sauces. The last three did not seem treatments necessary to inflict on fish so fresh. At Rivera's suggestion we ordered a pound of shrimp, glistening in the front display case, asked for it grilled, and were delighted with the mountain of truly jumbo shellfish, seasoned slightly too assertively but remarkably juicy. A steamed live lobster was also perfectly cooked: sweet, moist, and tender, obviously untraumatized by its flight from Maine.
Most entrées come with two sides, of which remarkably crisp cole slaw and a small but varied house salad (with a perky caesar-style dressing) were the winners, thanks to freshness and tasty house-made dressings. Even the tartar and cocktail sauces that accompanied the seafood were homemade. Actually, they'd have gone great with some fried belly clams. But what the Fish House had to offer was good enough that what it lacked was not missed.