Fancy a Fish Joint
A fresh piece of fish doesn't require a lot of dressing up to be alluring. Salt, pepper, drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle of lemon juice, and smattering of chopped herbs are more than enough. For some people. Others like their seafood adorned with additional flavors and textures and sauces and garnishes and anything possible to make their fish seem more interesting.
This latter group has enjoyed its day in the sun, leaving those in the first group to grasp with sesame-crusted tuna, pistachio-crusted grouper, and plantain-crusted mahi-mahi in tangy mango sauce. Signs may point to the setting of this sun, as national dining trends have been placing emphasis on the simple composition of quality ingredients, but both styles of preparation will continue to exist because there will always be customers desirous of each. If anyone needs evidence that fans of embellished fish remain large in number, they should check out the brisk business at Fish Joynt in North Miami Beach.
Raisin pumpernickel and sourdough cheese breads kick-started our meal in tasty fashion. This is just the first of many gratuitous foods to get placed on the table throughout the evening. Before the meal, little servings of cucumber salad and eggplant salad. With dinner, creamed spinach and a trio of potato latkes (for four people) with apple sauce. After dessert, a sizable plate of sliced fruits: watermelon, honeydew, papaya, mango, and pineapple.
Solid if standard starter fare includes shrimp cocktail, fried calamari with marinara sauce, and conch fritters with chili aioli. Not so successful was an underwhelming crabmeat quesadilla, the filling bland, the tortilla less than crisp. New England clam chowder was near perfect, though, rife with tender, meaty clams in a creamy soup of medium consistency. The rest of the regular menu is a perfunctory listing of lackluster-sounding meat, poultry, and pasta entrées (like seafood linguine, chicken piccata, New York strip steak) that pales in comparison with the tableside presentation of a wooden tray covered with the day's pristine seafood offerings. The waiter points to each individually plastic-wrapped fish and recites it name and preparation: Salmon is grilled and topped with a tomato-avocado salsa. Whole yellowtail snapper comes with clams, mussels, and shrimp in tomato broth. And so on. There are about eight to ten selections that vary each evening.
The fish we chose were all fresh and properly cooked, excepting an overly darkened pistachio topping on the sea bass -- the kitchen shouldn't have sent it out. Crabcake-textured shrimp-and-crab crust on the grouper was much better, moistly delicious and brightened with a splash of light lobster sauce. Both dishes were accompanied with steamed vegetables, roasted potatoes, and a sweet sweet-potato purée.
Same vegetables with a soy-and-ginger-imbued shrimp-fried rice came alongside a splendid halibut, the thick, firm fillet dipped in egg, lightly floured, and pan sautéed to a pale golden brown. Halibut is a mildly flavored fish, so a squeeze of the half-lemon on the side was all it needed.
Yellow Spanish rice nestled a grilled seafood brochette of jumbo shrimp, two scallops, and hunk of grouper with peppers, squash, red onions, and a single spongy mushroom at the top.
Another tableside presentation takes place after the plates are cleared, this time with names and brief descriptions of the homemade desserts. Luckily for the waiter, there were far fewer desserts than fish to identify, and it's fortunate for me as well; I'm one of those who, after lengthy menu recitals, usually has to say to the waiter: "Just one more thing: Could you repeat the part after “Here are tonight's specials'?" Desserts consisted of a flat triangle of brownielike chocolate cake; a circle of apple tart; a fat wedge of fresh, creamy, truly topnotch caramel-topped cheesecake with chocolate crust; and a crème brélée that was broken, the eggs and cream as separated as Tom and Nicole. Orange sorbet in a frozen orange shell and peach sorbet in a frozen peach, both imported from Italy, are, for obvious reasons, not visually displayed.
The faux-rustic walls, dark woods, and soft lighting in the two dining rooms conjure a warm informality, the waitstaff adding to the amicable mood with pleasant if sometimes unobservant service. Yet while Fish Joynt reflects all the qualities of a conventional middle-class neighborhood restaurant, its pricing is a bit more high-rent. There are under-$20 entrées on the regular menu (like chicken Marsala, linguine with clam sauce, and skirt steak), but most fish swim the gamut from the mid- to high twenties. Add $6-$9 for either a soup, salad, or starter; $5 for bottled water; $7 for dessert; and $2 for a cup of coffee, and you've got a $45 meal -- without tax and tip, and without beer or wine (both are available). This isn't an obscene amount to charge for a full dinner, but it wasn't that long ago when an establishment was required to provide crisply professional service, quality glass and flatware, and other fine-dining accouterments to warrant this type of bill. You won't find any of that at this joint, but you will be served a generous portion of fresh fish, with the aforementioned extras, in a convivial environment.
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