A trip to the new Fish Fish in North Miami feels like a dive into an exotic aquarium. The shimmery blue iridescent floor, watery faux finished walls, copper lighting, nautical wooden fixtures all being watched over by a carved mermaid lend a magical quality to this casual but upscale fish house.
The most impressive feature is not the quirky and colorful, do-it-yourself décor and table settings by IKEA but rather the vast selection of seafood that is more varied and fresh than any I have seen in Miami.
Diners are greeted by a pair of nine-foot ice display tables on which dozens of varieties of fish, local and imported. are lined up in tidy rows like a lollipops in a candy store.
Bright-eyed silvery hogfish, gleaming red snapper, gray-blue branzino, pink salmon from Scotland and zebra-striped lionfish are laid out reverentially. Tanks hold gorgeous Maine lobsters and succulent golden crabs, while more stunning selections of bivalves crowd the ice displays.
The waiters, a crew of eager, handsome recruits, are well trained, knowledgeable and polite, though runners seem a bit befuddled at times. Don’t expect a breadbasket to land on the table unannounced. If you want it, you may have to ask. We did. But it is well worth the carbs for the toasty rustic, ciabatta slices that are as chewy and crusty as a fine European baker’s.
Most of the rest of the menu is (or can be had) gluten-free thanks to accommodating and talented chef Oscar Quezada. He is also happy to halve orders or cook something off the menu. A self-taught talent from Mexico, he spent decades in Islamorada near the second home of Fish Fish owners Melvyn Franks and Rebecca Nachlas.
Quezada shows off a practiced hand with fantastic range of dishes coming out of his efficient kitchen. He makes a mean New England chowder with velvety texture and chunky array of potatoes, bacon, thyme and big fat clams. His rock shrimp tempura with a chipotle-spiked remoulade sauce could rival the dish made famous by Nobu. Jumbo lump crabmeat cake is indeed meaty and spicy and flattened to make sure it is cooked evenly.
Main courses are where true pescatarians can continue to celebrate our sea’s bounty in the kind of seafood that ought to be everywhere on our shorefront city but is rarely seen.
We sampled the stunning whole fried fish with a fine Asian dipping sauce as well as a rich, lemony aioli. Tough choice, but we ended up with the dramatic lionfish, the venomous, reef-dwelling invasive species that is threatening our coastal biodiversity. I had only ever seen it in saltwater tanks as an ornamental.
Stunning steamed mussels with white wine and buttery garlic can also be had with stunning Venus Sun Ray clams from our west coast. Chef Oscar’s signature, a pan-roasted grouper with a slightly creamy orange sauce and truffle mushroom risotto, is a delightful if somewhat heavy indulgence.
Pastas and risottos are expertly tended, including a housemade fettuccini packed with seafood including shrimp, scallops and a fist-sized lobster tail. Even better is shrimp scampi over linguini with a buttery wine and garlic sauce.
An array of salads is fresh, colorful and delicious. A nice touch, and a sign of how the kitchen is thinking: Two Caesar salads give an option for a classic or a deconstructed version with grilled whole Romaine leaves.
That is not to say that this is cutting edge cuisine. On the contrary. The menu offers wholesome, hearty, simple and delicious fare with some of the freshest and most diverse offerings, including oysters from around the world and our own backyard.
Desserts like individual key lime pies and apple tart do the trick. And though a chocolate molten cake came highly recommended, mine had no liquid center but instead had the rubbery consistency of an oversteamed British pudding.
The wine list is serviceable and cocktails are creative. But be warned, a seat at the bar can be tough to score during weekends. It is well worth a wait for the special $6 bites that include signature gems like fried calamari and grilled shrimp with Thai dipping sauce.
Though the tab does seem expensive for an out-of- the-way strip mall, a meal at Fish squared is like an odyssey where the namesake seafood is always delicious delicious.