Fish Fish: Old-School Fried Goodness in North Miami
Fish Fish co-owner Rebecca Nachlas, crispy whole hogfish, and truffled French fries
The singer sways his hips and croons an indistinguishable tune. In almost all circumstances, he'd be considered unusual: a thin man with a floppy fishing hat, blue shirt, and pleated khakis pulled too high on his waist. He looks like Gilligan in a cruise ship's karaoke bar. Gyrating in the back of Fish Fish's dining room on a Saturday night, though, he just makes sense.
This North Miami spot, which occupies the same strip mall as a bank, a dry cleaner, and a pizza place, is beyond quirky. Take the Baja fish tacos. Tucked into warm tortillas, grilled strips of grouper are perfectly cooked and covered in the expected pico de gallo. But then there are some oddities — grated cheddar cheese and a "Baja" sauce that tastes suspiciously like ranch.
You can scoff all you want at the pairing. Fish Fish doesn't mind. It makes no excuses for its antiquated ways. Instead, the seafood restaurant relishes in what others might consider square.
On the menu, there's coleslaw, chicken piccata, and truffled Parmesan French fries. Sure, those shoestring potatoes may be tired and old-fashioned, but there is comfort in the tiny hunks of cheese that gather on the parsley-dotted plate.
Beneath the copper nautical lamps, a preview of your meal awaits. There, a small water tank showcases live lionfish — a local invasive species that's also available for sale at the restaurant's market. "The spines are poisonous. Cut them off, and the fish is good to eat," says the cheery fishmonger in a white coat.
Whole grouper, yellowtail snapper, and hogfish share an ice bed with this striped, pesky fish. Order the snapper in the "crispy" style. Cooks at Fish Fish score the flesh, thrust it into sizzling oil, and serve it upright as if it's about to swim off the plate. This properly fried fish barely needs any trimmings. At Fish Fish, though, there is tartar sauce and an Asian soy-spiked dip. There's also a lemon cut precisely into a crown-like shape — the kind you haven't seen since you dined at a French restaurant in 1998.
This is no time for judgment. Peel the diamond-shaped chunks of meat off the fish's bones. It is wonderful — flaky, greaseless, and golden. It also explains why so many crispy fish dot the airy dining room.
Frying is Fish Fish's favorite approach to seafood. There are conch fritters, fish 'n' chips, and fried jumbo shrimp. Hogfish fillets are crusted with panko bread crumbs and topped with tomatoes, Parmesan, and a key lime butter sauce. The local catch — a buttery, flaky fish with the texture of scallops — doesn't need so much sprucing up. Neither does a yellowtail dipped in egg and cooked until slightly firm. Paired with this citrus-infused gravy, it caters to those who like their seafood smothered in breading, accoutrements, and sauce.
Pan-seared jumbo scallops are less complex. Sautéed with thyme and applewood-smoked bacon in garlic butter, they remain an indulgence. The scallops cover a bed of saffron risotto — a generous pappy mass you couldn't finish in two seatings even if you wanted to.
The same can be said about the rock shrimp starter. Cooked with shallots, garlic, and Key West Sunset Ale, the petite shrimp float in an abundance of liquid. But in this case, plenty is not a problem. Dunk a bit of bread from the never-ending basket.
Most dishes here fare best when shared.
Fish Fish will not only fry a whole fish but also grill, blacken, or broil a fillet for you. Ask one of the servers dressed in black. These simple off-the-menu specials might just be the best thing you have all night. Try them with baby bok choy. The Chinese cabbage is grilled quickly and then sparely seasoned with salt. It makes for a lovely, timeless meal.
So do the crabcakes, which rank among the best in the city. Lumps of jumbo crab are remarkably fresh — just barely kept together by herbed breading. Its edges are brittle and crunchy. Inside, the crab is tender, moist, and chunky. The cakes break apart with the slightest nudge of a fork.
Of course, you could start your dinner with the spinach and artichoke dip instead. At Fish Fish, nobody will deem you a philistine if you're craving shrimp scampi — or perhaps a steaming heap of truffled lobster mac 'n' cheese.
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