Fish Express

Navigating the choppy waters of the Dallas seafood scene yields one catch worth weighing.

Like Ahab, I’m on a fish mission. But finding a good specimen in Dallas is harder than you think. Point me not to the catfish huts. They serve the flattest filets, dredged in cornmeal and deep-fried until any semblance of fish has been obliterated.

Like Ahab, I’m from New England, where natives develop an ideal of fishy perfection: a slab of fish—it could be halibut or haddock, cod or scrod—that is firm and white and falls away in delicate flakes.

True, those fisheries are just about depleted, and seafood’s not nearly as ingrained here in landlocked Dallas. But that perfect fish lingers in the mind. So when three restaurants—The Cape, Fish Express, and Greenville Avenue Seafood & Jazz—opened at the same time, each boasting of fish, it seemed time to pull anchor and set sail for some seafood.

The Chase, part one:
The Cape
The Cape sits in the space that used to be Johnny Orleans Pasta in Uptown. Its front porch vaguely evokes a fish house. The menu had a small but decent range of seafood options, from crab cakes to blackened tuna to trout. The wine list seemed peculiar, with barely a handful of bottles, many fairly obvious such as the Santa Margherita pinot grigio, though at least they weren’t expensive.

The kitchen doesn’t lack for credentials. Chef Truett Bishop lists experience with Stephan Pyles and Wolfgang Puck. But nothing coming out of the kitchen fulfilled the expectations set by those names. Halibut wrapped in prosciutto was stiff and dry. Salmon a la nage saw salmon afloat in a saffron broth; a jumble of diced vegetables, inelegant and non-distinct, came void of flavor or personality.

The food might have tasted better if it hadn’t taken 75 minutes to arrive, and if the server hadn’t been so hilariously insulting, beginning with his condescending correction of the pronunciation of a dish. “A la nahj,” he emphasized, in a voice that might as well have come out and said, “You idiot.”
It was draining to watch the hectic kitchen try to wade through the weeds, just as it was surprising to see one of the cooks drinking a beer while on the job. 2704 Worthington St. 214-720-9010. $$

GO FISH: For fast-casual seafood, Fish Express is a cut above the rest.
photography by Elizabeth Lavin

The Chase, part two:
Fish Express

Owner Mike Hoque calls Fish Express a snappier version of his fine-dining spot Go Fish. While both places have good food, they don’t seem the same. Fish Express copies Pei Wei, the fast-casual restaurant where you place your order at the counter, then sit and wait for a server to deliver it.

As you sit, you’ll be serenaded by the din of children. This first branch of Fish Express (there will be more) at Preston and Forest draws many families and serves no alcohol, though you can bring your own.

And the food turned out to be a fine surprise. Mahi mahi with a ginger glaze felt pure and pristine. Beer-battered shrimp were delectable, with that battered crust offering not just crunch but a malty flavor, too. Did Hoque inherit the recipe from founding chef Chris Svalesen? Hush puppies, perfect ping-pong rounds, had a nutmeg undertone and zero grease. Mango coleslaw tasted soapy but not fatally so. A signature seafood burger was quite good, with chunks of fish, salmon, and rock shrimp formed into a patty and grilled until crisp, then served on a multigrain bun. And there she blows. 5921 Forest Ln., Ste. 200. 972-490-3476. $-$$. BYOB.

The Chase, part three:
Greenville Avenue Seafood & Jazz

When a restaurant has the words “& Jazz” in its name, take that as a sign that the food will likely be second-rate. As long as we’re talking about the name, the word “seafood” turned out to be a code for Cajun/Creole: etoufee, gumbo, and extra-bland crawfish bisque.

What an odd, ill-conceived place this bar-restaurant was. Located in what used to be Nero’s Italian, the room seemed to shrink when the jazz trio started to play so loudly that the aggressively upbeat waiter couldn’t hear a single request for forgotten dishes or extra napkins.

Both jambalaya and shrimp Creole contained bad shrimp: shriveled brown specimens that looked fossilized. Alligator cheesecake was just as unsettling: a pink wedge of warmed cheese spiked with unidentifiable bits of this and that, surrounded by a pool of weird, cold coulis. A side dish of sweet potato pie was too sweet to eat.

“Hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple dumpling,” Melville said. I didn’t see apple dumplings on the menu, but there was no point in ordering dessert. 2104 Greenville Ave. 214-826-6376. $$.

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