Grillfish offers delicious seafood entrees and good service
162 Columbus Ave., Boston.By Aaron Prazan
Grilled Fish. Mako Shark, Halibut, Bluefish, Salmon, Grouper, or Red Snapper: All taste great prepared over a hot open flame. With lemon, olive oil, and spices, a simple filet becomes more than just a slice of meat. It becomes the focus of eager taste buds and overwhelmed olfactory glands. Any seafood restaurant worth its salt should have a broiler and a menu page devoted to grilled fish. Grillfish, located just two blocks south of the Arlington T-stop at 162 Columbus Avenue has done even more with the genre. The management built a restaurant around grilled fish, and the chefs have raised the simple dish to an art form.
The atmosphere at Grillfish is upscale and aquatic. I was greeted by a modern-day urban pirate of sorts: The tall, muscled, Maitre'D dressed in black T-shirt and tattoos. The rest of the atmosphere was similarly casual, with an aquatic theme. Huge whitewashed roof support columns resemble the salt-covered masts of an old retired schooner. Atop the long limestone bar sits a figurehead looking out over a sea of tables. Seashells detail the grey metallic barstools, adding to the underwater atmosphere. Behind the bar are bottles of Pescevino, a white wine sold in fish-shaped glass bottles. Clubbish dance music sets an unusually upbeat mood not found in typical fine dining locales.
Grillfish's slogan - "Fresh Fish, Friendly Prices, No Tuxedos" - proves appropriate. Virtually everything on the menu is fish or shellfish. I had the opportunity to try the shrimp scampi, grilled shark, salmon, and the clams tossed with pasta in a garlic wine sauce. All seafood was cooked to perfection and was extremely mild. Obviously, Grillfish's namesake is regarded with great care and pride. The seafood is all impeccable, served on mismatched china with corn-on-the-cob and a side of pasta. Prices range from about $8 to $13 for most entrees. Lobster and seafood fra diavlo are the exceptions, each in the $20-range. The fra diavlo is the chef's specialty, consisting of cubes of fish and shellfish tossed in linguini steamed with a spicy tomato-based wine sauce. It is a real feast and comes only for two. Grillfish has fresh fish entrees with more personality than most any good meal in its price range.
Besides the main course, where Grillfish really shines, the food is average. The decision to serve corn-on-the-cob with most meals is a mistake. For most of the year it is out of season, so has to be shipped in. As a result, the corn is tough and overgrown in all but the summer months. Waitstaff brings out pasta with most meals also. First, two starch courses (corn and pasta) left me overfull and dry-mouthed. Second, the pasta course tasted underdone to me. Great sauce would have made up for the problem, but there just was not enough moisture there to take my mind away from it. I drank four glasses of water. Commendations go out to the waitstaff for keeping my glass full, but the chefs might want to spend some time revising their serving selections. Aside from these problems, Grillfish has a dining room worth visiting.
Appetizers and desserts burst with flavor,but do not present the value of the main courses. The shrimp scampi, which is the most popular appetizer, consists of four jumbo shrimp dripping in butter, wine, and garlic. Though the taste is fabulous, I was disappointed to get such a small serving for the price. Scampi, along with many other first courses, is over $6. Desserts are slightly better at $5, which is about the standard price for an elegant dessert in Boston. Old standards like tiramisu are guaranteed to please, but I suggest one of the original creations, which are much more satisfying. Bananas with caramel cream is the best selling dessert. It features fresh bananas and a homemade caramel sauce over vanilla ice cream. On a strict budget, save room for dessert, not an appetizer.
For all its charms, Grillfish stands out for one overwhelming reason: grilled fish. Other meals are very good, but if you eat at Grillfish, get a grilled filet. Know your seafood, too, because mahi mahi is very different from rainbow trout, which is very different from catfish. Grillfish is not about fancy dishes or aspic-covered food presentations that are more art than sustenance. Grillfish is not a restaurant that offers something for every taste and preference. Grillfish is all about simplicity. It is about a casual enjoyment of the world's greatest brain food which, as everyone knows, is a juicy, flaky cut of grilled fish.