(CNS Foodie): Any restaurant that includes “fish” in its name better serve good seafood, and Da Fish Shack did not disappoint. We sat at the outdoor patio (there are only seats at the bar inside) for dinner and were lucky enough to enjoy a relatively pleasant summer evening, once the mosquitos disappeared.
As the name implies, this is ultra-casual, unpretentious dining — basic wooden tables and no table cloth, which is fine so long as that’s what you’re looking for. It’s right on the waterfront in George Town, but there are parking spaces either side, so that wasn’t a problem for our weekend dinner, and Bob Marley songs played the whole time, which set the tone nicely.
The waitress, who was very friendly and helpful throughout the dinner, came over fairly quickly to take our drinks orders, but she did let the side down a bit on refilling waters throughout the meal.
A group of four, we chose from the regular cocktail menu though there were a few drinks specials on offer. The Peachy Keen ($8), with vodka, peach schnapps, iced tea and fresh lemonade was reminiscent of peach iced tea and very refreshing; it went down better than the Raspberry Lemondrop ($9), with raspberry vodka, triple sec, fresh lemon and cranberry juice, which was tasty but a bit sweet. The Shackarita ($10), in addition to the expected tequila and triple sec of a standard margarita, had orange and Jameson’s, giving it a different kick and flavour, and this drink went down quite easily.
One of the group ordered a draft Caybrew, which turned out to be a big mistake because one sip made it clear that the lines for the beer had not been cleaned for a while. This is not a frivolous claim; I owned a pub in a former life and, for better or worse, have retained the once-vital ability to discern when lines are dirty. Da Fish Shack needs to get that sorted pronto.
For starters, we chose two specials – lobster tacos ($15) and seafood chowder ($7) – and the Shack ceviche ($14) from the regular menu. The two tacos came with two side sauces of sour cream and a fresh mango salsa. They were filled with nice chunks of lobster, and were set off nicely by the salsa.
While the chowder was more of a creamy, thick soup than the expected stewlike dish, it was flavourful start to the meal.
The tuna ceviche with scotch bonnet and lime was a huge hit. The portion was generous, with lots of tuna, and a lovely combination of flavours and ingredients, both expected and unexpected — cilantro, green and red pepper strips, lime juice, onions and mandarin orange slices.
The ceviche, which had a nice “zip” to it, was accompanied by cheese-flavoured crackers that one of our party aptly described as “Cheez-its but better”, and that was not meant disparagingly, by any means. We ran out of crackers well before we finished the ceviche, which we decided was much better than the opposite. Nobody complained and we soldiered on to consume the tuna without benefit of crackers.
After the success of the starters, we were all looking forward to our mains.
I have to add that by this time, I had already lost one knife through the exceptionally wide slats of the wooden table, since they were parallel to my silverware. This would happen a second time over the evening, though no one else seemed to share my cutlery issue.
We were evenly split among the specials – Cayman-style lobster ($22) and blackfin tuna ($22) — and regular offerings – Escovitch snapper ($24) and Yellowfin tuna ($25).
The lobster was cooked with a tomato-based sauce containing coconut milk, red and green bell peppers, carrots and onions. It was served with rice and vegetables, consisting of julienne carrots and green beans, which added a nice touch of colour but not much else. All that was forgiven by the chunks of fresh lobster and the creamy, tasty sauce nicely accented by the coconut.
For the special tuna, one of my companions chose potato au gratin and veggies (again the carrots and green beans) from a list that also included rice, fries, salad, green plantain and breadfruit fries. The tuna was declared delicious, cooked rare as requested.
The snapper, a whole fried fish with pickled vegetables and festival, proved an ambitious decision as the diner found it an annoying distraction dealing with deboning the whole fish but, to be fair, the description was very clear so he knew what he was in for. He was probably also a bit put out because his first choice, the Shack gumbo, wasn’t available. Having that said, he carefully worked his way through it and enjoyed every tasty bite. The “balls” of festival were just right as well.
I had the yellowfin pan-seared tuna, served with tempura okra, avocado, tomato ragout and ginger glaze, topped by arugula. As with the other tuna dish, mine was cooked to rare perfection. When I ordered it, I expressed scepticism about the accompanying okra since my memories of that vegetable all involve a slimy, tasteless mess. The waitress implored me to try it, saying the fried version was an entirely different experience. She was right; I thoroughly enjoyed it – tasty and crunchy and, importantly, no slime.
The avocado added a nice change of texture to the dish. I must add a caveat here, though. I found the accompanying sauce, which thankfully came in a separate little dish, strange and jarring. The thick combination of malt vinegar, soy sauce, ginger and sugar created what can only be described as an overly sweet soy sauce with a hint of ginger. Thank goodness I tested it before dipping any of the lovely tuna into it. I just cannot figure out how the chef thought that sauce was either tasty or a good idea. I admit I found myself overly obsessing about it to my companions.
Despite everyone being replete from their dinners, we bravely opted for dessert – Key lime pie and breadfruit pudding. The pie, with a graham cracker crust and middle, was more like a mousse and came on a plate drizzled with raspberry sauce. It was light and delicious. The breadfruit pudding was a revelation. Served warm with ice cream and caramel sauce, it was a true crowd pleaser. I can only describe it as a lighter version of a heavy cake, but that doesn’t really do it justice. Even though we were full, I think a second order of that dessert would have probably been consumed, but we resisted.
All in all, I would recommend Da Fish Shack for seafood lovers of all descriptions, though perhaps the cooler, drier weather of the fall would be the better time to sit outside.
Gratuity: 15% added to the bill.
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Category: Golden Spoons Review