At the market fish comes fresh; dishes could use enlivening
Steve Satterwhite

Unstable Marketplace

When dining out we like to think of the fish on our plate as having arrived fresh from the market that very day, a harmless bit of self-delusion that somebody, in just about every city near water, inevitably capitalizes on by opening an eatery called "The Fish Market." The Wyndham Hotel, by the now deserted Omni, has housed a restaurant with just that name for ten years. Even so, like most hotel eateries, especially those with downtown locations, The Fish Market remains relatively unknown. But unlike most "Fish Markets," there are no decorative suggestions of a marketplace, fish or otherwise. If you didn't know the name of the place, you'd never guess this was a seafood establishment at all.

It hasn't always been. The same space was once occupied by a French restaurant, which, based on the décor, makes more sense. The main dining area, which seats 50, is square-shape with a very tall ceiling centered by gold-leaf tiles. Muted multicolor banquettes line the perimeter of the room; the center is empty except for a posh serving station with wine bottles, glasses, and real silver cutlery. Shiny maple wainscotting and trim, a marble floor, and bright lighting create the stark elegance found in upscale department-store restaurants. And bank lobbies. Two other rooms, one in back that was darkened during our visits, and one in front, which seats 25, offer a more generic fine-dining ambiance. The lounge outside The Fish Market is warmer, and indeed, if you should find yourself in the area, it looks like a comfortable place to stop for a drink.

Restaurant insiders will tell you the freshest seafood often gets served on Tuesdays and Fridays. The reasoning: Most places get fish deliveries on Friday, and sometimes Saturday, that will get them through a busy weekend. If the weekend isn't quite so active (or even if it is), whatever fish is left over Monday will be on its third or fourth day in the fridge. Tuesday deliveries are common, because by then the weekend fish have surrendered, and also because restaurants that are closed Mondays will start anew that day. The seafood we sampled at The Fish Market, on a Thursday one week, a Friday another, were consistently fresh. It's the preparations that my dining mates and I weren't crazy about.


The Fish Market

1601 Biscayne Blvd (in the Wyndham Hotel); 305-374-0000.

Open daily, 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

A basket of warm rolls arrived first, then a plate of complimentary croutons with three distinct mounds of minced olives, roasted red peppers, and herb cream-cheese spread. Good thing they give you these to munch on, because the kitchen isn't quick in putting out the starters. In retrospect it would have been fine by me if the "homemade tuna pastrami with roasted wild mushroom and truffle vinaigrette" ($9) never arrived at all. Thick, grisly slices of raw fish and a fanned portobello mushroom had an unpleasant, coriander-heavy taste, which when combined with the vinegar all but snuffed any truffle flavor that might have been. Just as well they weren't lavish with those pricey funghi, as we left the dish uneaten. Fried calamari and shrimp "basted" in chili ketchup ($9) were better, but the heap of lightly battered rings (no tentacles) and one plump shrimp were a little greasy. The piquant dipping sauce on the side was thin, more like a mellowed tabasco than chili ketchup. Coming on the heels of these disappointments, an appetizer portion of a pasta main course (one of four on the menu), "Thai spiced shrimp on lemon pepper linguini with lemon grass sauce" ($12/$24), took us by surprise with its spicy sprightliness. Three medium-size shrimp, succulent and snappily seared, were tossed with the lemon linguini and a hot-sweet sauce. It was exceptional, by far the best dish we had here.

Flounder française ($20), two fillets egg battered and pan sautéed, comprised a competent if unexciting main course. A heartier helping of citrus tequila butter might have provided some of the missing zing. A lesser problem was that the coating slipped off the fish upon cutting, as if they neglected to flour the flounder before dipping into the batter. Sides of steamed yellow squash, baby carrots, and pencil asparagus were, at best, lukewarm, as was an ice cream scoop of mashed red potatoes, which I mistook at first taste for potato salad owing to its cool temperature and glutinous nature. The same sides, minus the asparagus, came with "stewed monkfish in a cauldron with drawn butter" ($22). The moist, flavorful chunks of monkfish were served in a creamy, clam chowderish sauce that was buttery enough to lend at least some credence to the wording. They really should consider cutting up separate vegetables for this dish (specifically diced potatoes instead of mashed), rather than lazily tossing in the starch and veggies that make up their main-course accompaniments.

"Grilled salmon fillet and crispy noodles with spicy ginger sesame sauce" ($22) was even more misleading. It contained no noodles, crisp or otherwise. No ginger. No spice. Hardly even a hint of sesame flavor, though black sesame seeds did dot the brown, tasteless sauce. The fish itself was properly grilled: thick, tender, and juicy. On a different evening, identical vegetables, with, yes, an ice cream scoop of overwhipped mashed potatoes. This time all were hot.

A round, flat, warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream ($7) made for a heavenly dessert, with buttery crust, vanilla ice cream, and smooth caramel sauce. "Chocolate opera torte with Melba sauce and fresh berries" ($7) wasn't nearly as good: three triangular wedges of pedestrian chocolate-marble cake held up by a puff of whipped cream in the center of the plate. Peach Melba sauce was two pools of brightly colored purées -- one peach, one raspberry.

The waitstaff performed their tasks in a personable and professional manner. Someone, though, should be seeing to it that the kitchen puts out a product more closely resembling what the menu promises. As I've said the seafood is fresh. When dining out, however, we not only like to think of our fish as having arrived that day, but also that the proprietors are doing whatever they can to ensure as flawless a meal as possible. If this is the adult equivalent of believing in Santa Claus, all I can say is that I saw a pillow sticking out of The Fish Market's belly.


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