The ultra-­modern white-on-white interior. photography by Kevin Hunter Marple

Review: Dallas Fish Market

Dallas Fish Market brings upscale seafood to downtown. The servers will tell you just how good it is.

The staffers at dallas fish Market sound like members of a cult—the cult of Randy. That would be Randy Morgan, the chef at the new high-end seafood restaurant that took over the Jeroboam space. He has seemingly mesmerized his servers.

One reveals that he left his previous job in order to work with Randy. Another gushes over Randy’s menu so persistently that, no matter what is brought to the table, you know it can’t match the buildup.

There’s nothing wrong with selling the chops of your chef. But when the effort feels as forced as this does, alarms begin to sound—as if the servers hope they can make the food taste better simply by raving.

Morgan is unquestionably unique, with a gentle demeanor that makes you stop talking and bend in to listen. His resume doesn’t read like the rest. He was in a rock band called Thread. He’s 31. He’s not a trained chef, having instead learned on the job at various spots, including Sazarac’s at the Hotel Monaco in Seattle and Oceanaire Seafood Room in Dallas, where he was a sous chef.

He was imported by owner Mike Hoque, who also owns Go Fish in Addison and Fish Express in North Dallas. Hoque is out to bring more seafood to Dallas, and his latest effort is this high-end restaurant inside the Central Business District. A market does potentially exist for a classy seafood joint downtown—a trail blazed, ironically, by Hoque’s former partner, chef Chris Svalesen, who opened the highly successful Fish back in the ’90s.

Morgan knows how to create intrigue on the menu, how to stimulate intellectually, with intricate ingredients and new-fangled concepts such as his macaroni and cheese made with mascarpone. But that doesn’t always translate into good eats. One prime example: Pacific bigeye tuna, a statuesque chunk of fish so tricked up with foodie bells and whistles that the fish just about disappeared. That’s no small feat, to obscure a baseball chunk of fine fish. The exterior was dusted with piri piri, a marinade made from the piri piri pepper, popular in Portugal. Who’s heard of that? Raise your hands. But its underlying heat overwhelmed the subtler fish.

Here’s what the tuna came with. Roll it over your tongue: Medjool date tabouli, roasted pepper Muhamara, pomegranate molasses, and crispy carrots. Whoa, that’s a lot of stuff. What it ended up tasting like: a nutty grain pilaf with the sweet, autumn flavors of pie. It had a complexity so dark, it felt almost cruel to pair it with the hapless tuna, and its autumnal profile seemed off during the peak of summer.

The sweet treatment worked better on the swordfish. The fish, a moderate-size rectangle with a handsome crust, sat on a base of delicious wilted arugula and shavings of fresh fennel. An accompanying brown-butter sauce came spiked with juicy, golden raisins and a sprinkling of slivered almonds. Not a raisin or nut on that plate went uneaten.

Seafood is the focus, but obviously you can’t not have beef. Morgan takes an innovative approach by using grass-fed beef from a mom-and-pop ranch in Texas. (He meets them weekly in the NorthPark Center parking lot to pick up his supply.) Leaner, more flavorful, better for the planet, grass-fed beef has become a new gourmet darling, and Morgan is clever to feature it. But it differs from the fleshier, fattier corn-fed steaks to which we’ve become accustomed. The ribeye wasn’t as thick as a steakhouse cut and had less of the marbling people gush about.

Soups and side dishes went way off the hook. The mascarpone mac and cheese had a foresty flavor and not much of a cheese presence. They’d do better to rename the thing so as not to raise expectations. And do us a favor: just call the “Maine lobster corn chowder” a bisque, would you? Because that’s what it was, a brick-colored puree enclosing bits of soft lobster.

These labeling issues go hand in hand with the staff’s tendency to overstate. The servers definitely need to spend less time on the gush and hype, and more on actual service. On a recent weeknight, only seven tables were occupied, so why did 45 minutes elapse between appetizer and entree? It might have been less irritating if not for the sight of two managers and one hostess, sprawled across the front stand, callously oblivious to the goings-on.

The bar needs an intervention, too. Its fruity drinks, with big chunks of orange rind taking up valuable room in a short glass, were so very wrong. Best stick to wine, as supervised by sommelier George Calderon. And no problems with the atmosphere: the clean and modern white room with blue and silver accents and beautiful art deco light fixtures over which Randy presides will make you forget this was ever Jeroboam.

Get contact information for Dallas Fish Market.


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