The recent openings of seafood restaurants in Memphis reads like a Dr. Seuss rhyme. Bonefish, a St. Petersburg-based chain, has been drawing big crowds to its Cordova location for the past year. Bluefin recently opened on Main Street and features an extensive sushi menu and Asian-influenced entrées. And then there is Blue Fish, which adds to the evolving and eclectic variety of dining experiences in the Cooper-Young neighborhood.
The Blue Fish Restaurant & Oyster Bar occupies the corner spot on the same block as the Beauty Shop and Dó at the intersection of Cooper and Young. The windows of the main dining room allow a glimpse of the throng that has kept this restaurant packed since it opened a few months ago. Entry is off Young through a funky metal door, and the foyer is enhanced with a wall fountain. Turquoise paint, tile, and neon imbue a Caribbean feel to the restaurant's interior, and the port windows and whimsical cutlery add to the theme. A free-standing oyster bar flanks the long bar. The decor is pleasing, but the noise level makes conversation difficult. A separate room in the rear of Blue Fish is much quieter.
Owner and chef Richard Grenamyer has long-established and jealously guarded relationships with fishermen from Alaska to the Gulf Coast. A daily appraisal of what's available establishes the next night's selections, and eight different preparations are offered for the fresh catch. For the non-fish-eaters in your party, token chicken and steak entrées are also offered.
In addition to raw oysters and boiled shrimp, starters include traditional soups and crustacean appetizers. On one visit, we enjoyed the gumbo -- a large, seafood-heavy portion in dark broth that had a pungent filé flavor. We also tried the cioppino, a tomato-based fisherman's stew. Like the gumbo, the cioppino was full of varied fish, clams, and scallops, but it could have used the traditional infusion of fennel. The Oysters Bienville lacked the crusty parmesan topping a tad more time in the broiler would have ensured, though the oysters were fresh and cleanly shucked. The special appetizer of the day, a grilled spicy shrimp with corn and black-bean relish, was delicious with its smoky and spicy kick. It was a favorite at our table.
Our daily-catch entrées were well-prepared and delicious. The quality of the fish was evident. The mahi mahi was prepared with a lightly jerked seasoning and topped with a mango salsa. It was also accompanied by the corn and black-bean relish. The spice on the fish and the sweetness of the salsa balanced well. The wild salmon, which was roasted on a cedar plank, was juicy yet firm. The woodsy flavor of the cedar was tempered with a tomato-basil butter sauce, and the garnish of flash-fried spinach leaves added a fabulous crunch.
We also ordered the blackened pompano, which was seared on the outside but tender inside. The dish was spicy but not overwhelmingly so. The sea scallops, lightly seared, were sweet and perfectly cooked. Red-eye gravy and mashed potatoes enhanced the flavor of the scallops.
There are not many restaurants I would journey to just for dessert, but Blue Fish is definitely one of them. Pastry chef and Richard's wife, Evalee Grenamyer, has created several selections that are truly extraordinary. The Key Lime pie was a thick wedge of creamy tartness that cleansed the palate and awoke the taste buds -- one of the best I've ever tasted. A chocolate pecan pie surprised with its rich chocolate morsels, and it didn't have the syrupy blandness of so many pecan desserts. The blueberry bread pudding was bursting with fresh berries and a caramel custard. It was served à la mode, using blueberry ice cream. Orange carrot cake was a creative version of an old standard with a citrus zest boost.
A seafood-friendly wine list offers many Chardonnays, Pinot Gris/Grigios, and Sauvignon/Fumé Blancs by the glass. Prices for our entrées averaged $25, which, considering the quality of fish and the excellent preparation, was not exorbitant.
Blue Fish is open for dinner only, until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. Reservations are recommended but be sure directory assistance gives you the number for Blue Fish. You'll want to be at the right place at the right time.
Blue Fish, 2149 Young, 725-0230