It was an icy cold night when I made my way to the new Bonefish Grill in Mercer Mall for a social media dinner I was lucky to be invited to. They opened to a splash (sorry!) last Monday, after a Saturday fundraiser for Womanspace that netted a cool $11,000 for the agency. Kudos to them for that!
Bonefish is a warm-water fish (not usually eaten) that is hotly pursued by sport fishermen who catch and release. The chain was started in 2000 by two partners in Florida who were avid bonefishing fans. I can just imagine them finishing up a great grilled fish dinner waterside with a couple of cocktails, and saying to each other, “We gotta bring this to the people!”
The chain is now owned by the same group that owns Outback Steak House (and several other upscale chains), and there is a new Outback right next to Bonefish Grill, so you can drive up to the parking area and think…now, what do I want tonight, steak or fish? I vote for fish! (I’ve never been to an Outback, but I’ll give them a try too, as I just might be the only person in the country who hasn’t ever had a Bloomin’ Onion®.)
I was definitely the more senior member of this youthful blogger group, but what fun it was to share a meal at a high-top table in the bar (and not too noisy in there!) with a like-minded group who were all just as intent on photographing their food as eating it. My friends are so tolerant of my frequent photo-taking at meals, although lately I’ve tried to curb myself when I’m just out to relax. But at the Bonefish Grill event, the photos (and my subsequent blogging) were sort of the point.
So, don’t confuse this with my print reviews in the Packet Publication’s TimeOff magazine. Those are anonymous visits where I pay for the dinner (and am reimbursed by the Packet). This dinner at Bonefish Grill was complimentary, but I found lots to like, and I don’t say that easily when it comes to chain restaurants, even more upscale ones like this. (Since I went to this media dinner, I will not be doing a TimeOff print review.)
First off, I like that Bonefish Grill is not one of those huge, cavernous spaces, and the noise level in the bar, while lively, did not impinge on our conversation, much less, one assumes, in the dining room across from the bar. During our meal, the managing partner of this location, Hank Trueblood, visited our table to talk about the food, and his enthusiasm was evident.
I enjoyed two beverages, first a non-alcoholic Blackberry Smash made with real fruit, and not too sweet. Across the table from me, one blogger’s husband enjoyed a raspberry martini that looked scrumptious, but I was holding out for wine with dinner. For that, I had a really good Sauvignon Blanc, the Kim Crawford from N.Z. (It was good enough that I know I need to start spending a little more on the Sauvignon Blanc I buy for myself at home. Ahem.)
We sampled several appetizers, including their very popular Bang Bang shrimp. This is (to me) like a mildly spicy version of that popular Chinese-American restaurant dish of battered, fried shrimp in a sauce based on mayonnaise, often with walnuts and maybe a little orange liqueur. The Bang Bang sauce has a spicy component instead, based on numerous copy-cat versions online maybe sweet chili and something like Sriracha sauce. There is just a light coating of sauce here, however, and this was a popular item, but to my surprise I was even more taken with the Wagyu Beef + Ginger Dumplings with crispy onions. Briefly seared ahi tuna sashimi was good too, and overall, it was hard to resist more of each of these.
My friend and I shared two salads, goat cheese with lightly pickled beets and mixed greens, and an especially good Caesar. (Our server overheard me tell my friend that I loved whole anchovy fillets, and immediately brought me some.)
Now, for the main event, the fish, which was presented to us for sharing as a mixed grill. We love our fish in New Jersey, and while I don’t see local fish on the menu (hard for a chain to do), each of these fillets was cooked perfectly, moist, flaky, and each with a different sauce, and wonderful wood-grilled flavor. The large scallop nestled in a shrimp, ditto. So, in the photo, we have salmon with mango salsa, Chilean sea bass with herb pesto (like a mild chimichurri), mahi mahi with lemon butter, and the shrimp/scallop combo with an Asian sauce. The Chilean sea bass and mahi mahi stole the show for me, but whatever your favorite fish, it will be well-treated here. We were also brought a sampling of the many sides you can choose from, potato gratin (sweet potato I think), mashed potatoes (lots of butter!), and chickpeas that were quite good.
For those who aren’t big on seafood, of course there are other options like pasta, chicken, steaks, and a Fontina pork chop. And there are various other seafood options that go beyond simple grilling, plus lobster tails and crab cakes. I was pleased to see that, while I usually avoid heavily salted dishes when eating out, the more simple fish preparations here are the lowest in salt, according to the nutrition information on their website.
Desserts were also good, especially a pair of vanilla and chocolate crème brulées. (We decimated those before I could get a photo!) There was also a very decadent gluten-free brownie (they have plenty of gluten-free items), key lime pie (tasted like real key lime), and cheesecake with seasonal topping (apple for winter).
Overall, a very good meal, and I am still dreaming of the wood-fire grilled fish, that was the highlight for me. (I know I will cave in sometime and have their bang-bang shrimp tacos, which sound just too decadent to resist.)