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[whitespace] 3-fish
Photograph by George Saakestad

Pinch me: Seafood, trussed up and ready at the aptly named 3 Fish.

Piscine Scene

An offshoot of the Fish Market reels in customers with great service, and spawns its own innovative menu

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

ON THE NIGHT following my first visit to 3 Fish, I drove home pondering the name. Was it born of whimsy? Did the three fish in the sign represent the three 8s in the address, or a concept of greater significance?

At first, our waitress said the name was just chance. But I pressed her, and discovered that the three swimmers refer to the owner, his wife and their daughter. How the double-clawed lobster standing alongside the watery trio found its way into the lineup remains an unknown.

I also discovered that this fledgling enterprise is a spinoff of the ever-popular Fish Market. In addition to fresh fish grilled over mesquite charcoal, I found a menu full of curious departures, pinching flavors from the coast of Maine to the Tropics, all the way to the Italian boot. The people at the helm of this restaurant are attempting something new and exciting.

3 Fish has opened in the old digs of Ken's House of Pancakes. The new look flaunts a Cape Cod atmosphere with California elements: plenty of windows, an exhibition kitchen, and a raw bar where I mingled with patrons, mulling life, drinking beer, sucking down oysters on the half. Locals have good reason to gab with the waitresses here. They speak openly about favorite dishes and make recommendations without hesitation.

I wouldn't call this place elegant, but it's not casual either. It falls somewhere in between and does it well. Tables are laid out in such a way that even when busy, the place doesn't get cramped. People don't breathe down your neck or stare covetously at your food, as they sometimes do at the Fish Market. A sense of spaciousness prevails.

Our first visit was a success from beginning to end. We opened with Oyster Shooters and a Lobster Avocado Salad ($18). After that, we had sesame-encrusted Hawaiian Ahi ($19.50), flawlessly seared, and served over wasabi mashed potatoes--a signature of the 3 Fish kitchen--and mesquite-broiled King Salmon ($16.75) served with tartar sauce. I like tartar sauce and applaud the owners for serving it--in copious amounts--on the side.

My second visit started out with Oyster Shooters ($1.25 a piece), shucked to order and served in a glass with a splash of spicy cocktail sauce. In addition, we had a batch of Crab Cakes ($9.50) that were empty of flavor and texture. The Conch Fritters ($8.50) were infinitely better--crispy and tender--but inundated with flat- tasting pineapple chutney.

Following these awakeners, we explored the Shellfish and Stews section of the menu, deciding on the basic Cioppino ($21.75) composed of shellfish (clams, crab, shrimp, squid) in a tart, pulpy sauce ringing of tomato and little else. Also found under this heading is the traditional Cape Cod Clam Bake ($24.75), assembled with a 1-pound lobster, clams, mussels, corn on the cob and new potatoes.

Both the Tuscan Halibut ($17.75) and the Bluenose Seabass ($18.75) suffered from poor kitchen-to-table timing, overcooking these potentially boat-fresh items. The white bean tomato relish, which read like poetry on the menu, could not revive the halibut. The natural moistness of the seabass had been sapped from all but one bite. In that one bite, I savored the delicate ocean flavor of this wonderful fish.

Lastly, we sampled the Meyer Lemon Pasta ($14.50) made with flecks of salty smoked trout and Calabria chiles in a light cream sauce. This dish required immediate attention. As it cooled, the noodles solidified into a nest, making it nearly impossible to twirl strands onto a fork. Next time, I'll try the Capellini and Rock Shrimp ($13.75) seasoned with Italian bacon, basil and more of those energetic Calabria chiles.

So far, all of the servers I have encountered at 3 Fish seemed authentically engaged in what they were doing. The second night, our waitress guided us to a buttery 1999 Trefethen Chard that complimented almost everything we tasted, softening the blow of our disappointments.

3 Fish
Address: 888 El Camino Real, Menlo Park
Phone: 650.326.2633
Price Range: $8-$29.50
Cuisine: Seafood/raw bar
Hours: Lunch 11:30am-3:30pm Mon-Fri; dinner 4:30-9:30pm Mon-Thu, until 10pm Fri, Sat, Sun.

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From the October 4-10, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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