This one-year-old Merivale Road seafood restaurant may have an engaging name – poached from Dr. Seuss’ genius poem about eccentric fish – but it seems to be struggling to find its identity.
I keep going back to One Fish Two Fish – one time, two times, three times – but I cannot get a handle on this restaurant. Are they trying to be an upscale Red Lobster, or a serious, destination fish restaurant? It’s hard to tell, and the food and the look give mixed messages.
The clear strength of One Fish Two Fish is a very fresh product. Its built-in problem is the large warehouse space in a big-box mall. White linen-clad tables, fashionable chairs and au courant plateware clash with views of neon mall signs, parked cars and well-lit refrigeration units. Blocking out the parking lot in some clever manner would help; so would a dimmer switch, and taller dividers to separate the dining room from the fish shop.
A number of contemporary dishes pleasantly deliver on the freshness. One evening the special trio-of-fish dish includes a hunk of rare tuna with a pickled ginger and cilantro chimichurri, one lavender-vanilla-tempura scallop infused with lobster butter, and a raw dice of organic salmon with a miso and wasabi purée tumbling off a crisped up wonton. All quite nicely done.
I’ve had a terrific piece of trout here – squeaky fresh, perfectly cooked, with preserved lemon and a little mint butter, and nicely adorned with rapini, softened grape tomatoes, and baby bok choy. I’ve had a plate of sea scallops, with sundried tomatoes and a brown butter sauce that was pretty good too. I also enjoyed a fine bowl of mussels in wine, with tomato, capers and shaved fennel.
The problems start when the menu starts to stretch – one fish, two fish, far too much fish. It’s a menu that tries to please everyone by including everything, treating seafood to all manner of assaults/treatments, from battered, fried and sugared-up stuff to organic, raw and wasabied.
Beer battered fish and chips; cheese topped escargots-stuffed mushroom caps; coconut shrimp with pina colada dipping sauce – I’ve seen these everywhere and don’t care to see them any more. Same with the ubiquitous section of Caesar salads with toppers of shrimp or salmon or chicken (popular, sure, but still wrong). There’s little more imagination expended on the sides: “Will that be rice, mashed, fries, roasted with your – (fill in the main dish)?” The rice may be “herbed” and the potatoes “fingerling” and one of the options is sautéed baby spinach, but still (still!) the list of questions speaks of chain fish eateries.
Cheese is a problem – cheese featuring where cheese ought not to be. And too often cream is relied on to mask a lack of fundamental flavour. And, judging from the chemical zing in some dishes, the kitchen seems to use the same bottled sauces they sell in the attached seafood shop as glazes or boosters.
Based on three meals, I’d warn you away from any soup. Cheese ruins the seafood chowder one visit; the so called “Cioppino Bouillabaisse” (which is it, a cioppino or a bouillabaisse?) tastes of bland chicken broth (where’s the saffron?); and the lobster bisque tastes too much of cream. And I’d not revisit any appetizer: the calamari is ho-hum; the double stuffed shrimps (snow and blue crab meat actually surround the shrimp) are, unbeknownst to us, breaded and fried and the shrimp within is pretty rubbery. And I’m not about to pay $9 for tomato bruschetta in March.
Somewhere in between the coconut shrimp and the lavender scallops there are steaks and pastas and familiar treatments of fish and seafood (blackened halibut, teriyaki salmon, whole steamed lobster, etc.) Noodle dishes rely too heavily on cream and cheese (it’s a pervasive problem) though the best of the lot is the bucatini with shrimp, scallops and spinach in a pesto cream sauce. Just loose the parmesan please.
Service is pleasant enough, but amateurish. She doesn’t know the day’s soup. He stumbles over words like wasabi and chimichurri, and at all three visits, they resort to notes to describe the one and only special.
Though it isn’t advertised on the web site, or mentioned when you reserve, One Fish does offer BYOB, for the very fair corkage fee of $10.