The folks at Rosebud Restaurants invited me to try their latest venture, Joe Fish, a new seafood restaurant in River North. It’s a beautiful, classic space that manages to be airy and light at the same time. It’s at odds, however, with a vibe that’s a bit stuffy and formal. I can easily picture high-powered business lunches or fancy dinners for out-of-towners filling the restaurant.
Thankfully, the bar had a different vibe. My half-dead iPhone and I arrived a little early for dinner, and the bar staff let me plug in, order a beer, and quietly Instagram until my friend arrived. I ordered a glass of Really Cool Waterslides from 3 Sheeps, nibbled on goldfish crackers, and watched as the staff helped tourists make after-dinner plans. It was a pleasant place to loiter.
My friend ordered her drink after we were seated, which was notable only because she was given an iPad to do it. We became distracted by gadgets for longer than intended — that just doesn’t happen with a regular menu. BTW, the house-branded Sauvignon Blanc she got tasted like a light, fruity wash of spring in a glass. Surprisingly good.
On the waiter’s recommendation, we ordered the crab cake for an appetizer. It was $21. It was huge. It was the best effin’ crab cake I’ve had in a long time — no filler and tons of fresh, flaky crab. The only disappointment was the side of slaw drowning in Catalina sauce beside it. I’m very happy we decided to split that monster because I wouldn’t have had room for the other appetizer, a Bang Bang Biscuit.
Joe Fish decided to keep their focus on seafood and outsource baking to local favs, Bang, Bang Pie Shop. Good call. The biscuit was amazing — huge, like the crab cake, but light, too. We dabbed more butter onto its already buttery texture along with heaping spoonfuls of apricot jam. This is one appetizer should also be on the dessert menu.
Since we had plans now had firm plans for dessert, we also decided to split the black cod entrée. Served with a hunk of under-done bok choy, the fish was a delightful, melt-in-the-mouth experience. A light miso sauce complemented the buttery fish nicely. As with the appetizer, the serving size was more than enough for two people. Well, for two girls anyway. I admit to eating like one.
We selected another appetizer instead of a side dish to accompany the meal. Why the roasted cauliflower wasn’t consider a side was a little baffling. I expected the cauliflower to be caramelized, instead it seemed have been browned had a watery consistency. The heat of the chilies was concentrated in their infrequent appearance of the dish. In all, a little disappointing.
The first plan for dessert was to scarf down slices from Bang, Bang Pie Shop. When I think pie, I always think fruit — it’s how I’m wired. So I was a little sad about pecan and cheesecake instead of berry or apple. I almost ordered another biscuit, but decided to forge ahead with ricotta topped with fruit compote to get my fix.
Let this be a lesson: when thinking about great pie, don’t order a substitute. This dish was doomed from the start. The ricotta wasn’t smooth, came as a giant blob, and the fruit did not pair well with it at all. The peanut droppings and mint sprig added nothing.
Service at Joe Fish was impeccable all night, especially the bar staff and our waiter. He accommodated requests to let me take photos before splitting dishes, made recommendations, and fielded questions throughout the meal. Magnus, you were a champ.
I would recommend Joe Fish for those who have the coin for its convenient location, or for tourists who are timid about venturing out of the downtown area. The atmosphere is classy and the seafood is excellent. However, if you want more adventure and local flair for your budget, join me. I’ll be in line for pie.