My recent dinner at Grillfish brought back to me the importance of giving a restaurant a second chance to make a good impression. On my first visit, shortly after it opened last August in the building formerly occupied by Atomic Café, I wasn’t very impressed.
I thought the space, with its soft pastel walls, light sconces by each table (making reading the menu easier), Art Deco lamps suspended from the ceiling, an open kitchen, and a bar running along one wall made for a nice ambience.
However, I was less enamored of the service (way too slow for a restaurant that wasn’t near capacity) and the food (not bad, but not remarkable either).
Fast forward five months and my return visit to Grillfish made for a completely different experience. The ambience is the same, but the service and the food are now what one expects from a fine dining establishment with prices to match.
Let’s start with the service. On a considerably busier night than my previous visit, it was superlative. Sherry, our server, was efficient and helpful, even going so far as to get me bartender Jason’s recipe for his excellent gimlet — as good as any I’ve had in New York or San Francisco.
On another note, which may not matter to everyone but goes a long way with me — when I thanked her, she responded with “It’s my pleasure,” rather than the all-too often heard these days, “No problem.” I suspect that co-owner Wayne Masterman, one of Lexington’s most distinguished restaurateurs, has a lot to do with this.
An editorial comment: Please, servers, make it your pleasure rather than not your problem to serve your guests.
Despite its name, Grillfish has a lot to offer the non-fish-loving diner: steaks and other cuts of beef, chicken and pasta. But the bounty of the sea is its specialty, with fish and seafood flown in daily.
I started out with fried oysters paired with a spicy tartar sauce ($12). They were large and succulent but not quite crisp enough to suit me. Thirty to 40 more seconds in the fryer would have added just the right crunch. The oysters were served over a bed of arugula, so it was a sort of mini-salad.
If I hadn’t had my salad craving satisfied with my appetizer, I would have opted for the arugula with warm goat cheese, roasted pecans and coconut curry dressing ($11).
When entree time came, my dining companion decided to try the Branzino, a type of Mediterranean sea bass ($34). Served whole, it is quite an impressive dish if you don’t mind it coming with head and tail intact. My friend didn’t mind and said it was delectable.
I’m not one to want my dinner staring back at me, so I opted for the grilled tuna ($32); you can also choose from several other types of fish, including salmon, red snapper and grouper. Each fish entree is served with corn on the cob and pasta, or you can request one of several alternative vegetables. As is commonly the case in many restaurants today, you can substitute one of the “premium” sides for a $5 to $9 surcharge.
I asked to try both of the sauces that accompany the tuna: the creamy garlic tomato and the sweet onion, the latter particularly tasty.
Since I am more of a savory person than a sweet, I often skip dessert. But after looking at the dessert menu, I was persuaded that this meal called for a little sweetness. My friend ordered the bananas with caramel cream, and I chose the cheesecake brûlée with butterscotch crust. The fact that neither of us left so much as a crumb is testimony that the desserts live up to their reputation.
I was sad when Atomic Café shut its doors, but I’m now convinced that Grillfish will be a welcome dining addition to north Lexington.
Patti Nickell is a Lexington-based travel and food writer. Reach her at email@example.com.
Address: 265 N. Limestone
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m. Fri., 4-10 p.m. Sat. Happy Hour, 5-7 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. Note: the website lists these times as winter hours, so they might be subject to change later.
Payment: Major credit cards.