Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fox Island Seafood House (F.I.S.H.)

Spring has finally sprung. After what turned out to be a dismal first winter in Connecticut, I was looking forward to even a hint of nice patio weather where I could sit outside, dine alfresco and enjoy the beauty of the day. That day finally came, most appropriately, on the first day of spring 2010.

Maarten and I were sorely in need of outdoor patio dining. We were on our own brand of Mission Impossible, and we were determined to have a successful outcome. Fortunately, there were several restaurants to select from that offered outdoor dining; unfortunately, at least one of those restaurants had closed suddenly just days before, and the others didn’t offer lunch on weekends. Finally, after a meticulous search, we found a place that looked promising.

We jumped in the car and made our way to Port Chester, NY, not far from the Connecticut/NY state line. The quaint village of Port Chester had many restaurants along our route, but we had one single destination in mind: Fox Island Seafood House (better known as F.I.S.H.). [Caution: the home page of this website plays LOUD music, so turn the volume down on your speakers before going to this site]

On a gorgeous Saturday mid-day afternoon, I expected F.I.S.H. to be crowded with folks ready and willing to shed the heavy winter coats in favor of short sleeve shirts, deck shoes and lightweight slacks. What we were greeted with when we walked into F.I.S.H., though, was a completely empty interior, except for three workers standing behind a buffet trough, and a harried looking waitress rushing in from the deck.

I looked at Maarten and he looked away, avoiding my accusing stare. After all, it was his exhaustive efforts that resulted in this particular restaurant and, although I appreciated his diligence, if it all went pear shaped, that would leave two very hungry people stranded in Port Chester.

One of the gentlemen behind the trough told us we could seat ourselves outside and he would be with us shortly. That was our queue; not to turn and run but to just go outside and wait, which we did. The patio, which overlooked the slightly murky waters of the Byram River, was comfortably tacky with its white plastic chairs and blue and white checkerboard plastic tablecloth. It was quirky-cheesy at its best.

The menu, which can change by 50% on a monthly basis, was on this particular day mesmerizing in its selections. However, the waiter did inform us that they did not have several of the fish selections. There was an appealing range of appetizers, salads, wood-fired pizza, a raw bar, sandwiches, wraps, burgers and more sizeable entrees.

I could have gone for the Spicy Tuna Flatbread with wasabi mascarpone, pickled ginger chives and ponzu spritz. Even the Crispy Point Judith Calamari with smoked paprika aioli sounded delicious. But as the restaurant prided itself on offering the best in sustainable fresh seafood, I took a chance and went with my recurrent favorite, Maryland Style Crab Cake. Yeah, it was risky, but it was a chance that I was willing to take and sacrifice myself for the sake of good dining. I’m such a martyr.

Maarten finally decided on the Sweet and Sour Beets from the salad menu, which I couldn’t wait to see. I am a lover of beets and used to devour them on a regular basis, but as of late I hadn’t had a decent plate in a while.

We settled in comfortably—as comfortable as we could get in our hard plastic lawn chairs—and awaited the onslaught of food as we had also ordered our entrees. The patio wasn’t full, but there were a fair number of people out on that dazzling first day of spring. The deck wrapped half way around the building, and could probably comfortably seat 50 people or more. Across the River, there were large homes resting atop grassy knolls, and several people were engaging in busy yard work.

When the appetizers arrived, I was impressed by the aesthetic appeal of both selections. I incorrectly assumed it would resemble the standard fare bar food, but it was far from that. The Maryland style crab cake looked like something straight out of an epicurean magazine. The golden brown temptation—which had more meat and less breading to hamper the wonderful flavors—was resting atop a whole grain mustard aioli with baby greens and a crunchy, texture-filled celery root slaw.

I often brag about the fact that I hail from Maryland and can, indeed, discern the authentic taste of a true Maryland-style crab cake from all of the posers and imitators around. This particular delicacy came extremely close to the real thing, and could only have been made better if I were devouring it along Maryland’s Eastern shore while walking barefoot through the white sands of Ocean City along the Atlantic Ocean. I had to force myself to eat every bite slowly, taking in the flavors, savoring each and every morsel yet all the while never wishing it to end. It was that good.

The sweet and sour beet salad was also something that I didn’t quite expect. It was obvious F.I.S.H. was more than just a waterside restaurant that suffered from the here-today-gone-tomorrow stigma. This was a salad that was artfully and—since I’m being a bit dramatic here—painstakingly arranged so that it was more than a mere pile of lettuce with beets tossed in for good measure. The addition of Sonoma goat cheese, roasted walnuts, tiny orange pieces and aged sherry vinaigrette all combined to complete this enjoyable salad that was light, sharp and full of texture.

It would appear we had both scored an A+ with our starters. The big question to be answered next was “What will be our experience with the entrĂ©es?”

With so many tempting items on the menu, you would think that Maarten and I could have each ordered something different and shared plates. But nooooo, we were being selfish on this day and we both insisted on ordering the Beer Battered Fish and Chips. After that fish ‘n chips fiasco that I encountered at a certain unnamed restaurant in Greenwich at the end of February, I felt compelled to redeem myself and finally, finally, eat a half-way decent meal of that perennial favorite.

The golden fried, beer battered cod was crispy on the outside, flaky, firm and meaty on the inside. The Old Bay seasoned chips (that’d be fries to you and me) were equally yummy and were sprinkled with just enough of the seasoning to create the perfect blend of flavors without in any way being overpowering.

When you think “fish ‘n chips”, greasy is probably one of the first adjectives that springs to mind. However, there was a noticeable absence of that slick, oily sensation and all that was left was the crunchy, satisfying flavor.

After eating every last crumb and speck on my plate, I so wanted more but my stomach was protesting already at being stretched beyond its capacity. Yes, I was being that greedy. It’s a fairly even bet that I’ll be making another trip or two (or six or seven) back to F.I.S.H. On my next visit I’ll be sure to try one of the tantalizing pizzas baked in their imported Italian wood burning stove. Until that time, I can only live with the memories of the meal that no longer was. And oh, what a meal it was.

Is F.I.S.H. recommended? Oh, but of course. Everything dish that we tried has become a favorite. And it should go without saying, but I’ll say anyway that I was impressed with the Maryland Style Crab Cake.

Is F.I.S.H. a good value or do you need to take out a loan to eat here? F.I.S.H. is reasonably and affordably priced. As their menu changes on a monthly basis, it’s difficult to tie down prices, but most items are in the medium price range. The signature pizzas go from $10-$12, appetizers and salads are $6-$14, and entrees from around $10 to mid-$20’s. There are a couple of selections from the raw bar that are over-the-top pricey, with the most expensive being the “Off the Hook Tower”, which consists of 8 pc. shrimp cocktail, 2 chick lobsters, 12 chef selection of oysters and 12 clams . . . and, at $95.00, you’d better be ready to eat every last piece.

What about atmosphere and ambience? Daytime dining can be vastly different from nighttime dining. Having said that, eating alfresco on such a beautiful day was just the ticket my husband and I needed. Indoor dining didn’t look too appealing to me, but that could be mainly because I had my heart set on patio dining and was suffering from tunnel vision. Overall, it was a rather comfortable atmosphere.

Fox Island Seafood House (F.I.S.H.)
102 Fox Island Road
Port Chester, NY 10573
(914) 939-4227

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