Bonefish Grill is "polished casual," and a pretty safe bet
I had never eaten at aBonefish Grill, and I as I lurked the menu online on the way to the restaurant, I was unimpressed with what I saw: grilled meats and seafood that seemed pretty typical of any American seafood/steakhouse. These days our food-centric culture tends to steer diners toward craving -- if not expecting -- the new, the exotic and the inventive. Even from pricey chain restaurants.
J. Wohletz The surf & turf roll at Bonefish Grill.
It appeared as though Bonefish Grill was playing it safe.
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I'd been invited to a blogger-appreciation dinner at the Bonefish Grill at 10438 Town Center Drive in Westminster by franchise store-owner Ben Martinez, and while I might not have had high hopes for the menu, I immediately had a high level of respect for his investment in the store. Martinez's employees -- servers, bartenders, cook and bussers -- seemed to really dig having him as a boss, saying so even when he wasn't around.
J. Wohletz Bonefish Grill's fresh apple martini.
Where was this place back when I was waiting tables? I've had owners and bosses that either showed up once or twice a year to extreme, affected fanfare a la Rex Manning day, and others whose company I'd defer to cutting myself with a broken beer bottle.
Bonefish Grill got its start in January 2000 in St. Petersburg, Florida; founders Tim Curci and Chris Parker soon sold the chain to Tampa-based OSI Restaurant Partners. By 2011, Bonefish Grill had 151 corporate-owned locations and seven franchise-owned stores, one of which is Martinez's. All Bonefish Grill locations follow fish-procurement procedures that are ostensibly safe -- the company pays attention to government regulations, the recommendations of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and supports aquaculture and the Ocean Trust conservation foundation. But helping keep everyone in fish now and for years to come is the best kind of safety move.
Martinez took me on a tour of the restaurant, offering charming and informed vignettes about the location, the specially-made décor items and the bar. I was thrilled to discover that, like me, he is a huge food-history buff. This is the only Bonefish Grill location -- and the only business -- that he currently owns, and he clearly has an emotional as well as financial investment in his business. As the evening went on, this showed up in ways both big and small.
J. Wohletz The spicy Bang Bang shrimp.
And he kept describing Bonefish Grill as "polished casual," which was a descriptor I hadn't heard before.
It's fun as hell to talk to other food bloggers, but Martinez and his staff brought out such a feast that we didn't have much time to yak. The meal started with Bonefish Grill's seasonal fresh apple martini. When I heard the words "apple martini," I immediately had a massive flashback to my clubbing days, slurping down bright green, maraschino cherry-studded cocktails while fishing through my purse for glow sticks.
This apple martini was grown up and respectable, with red delicious apples soaked in vodka, honey and cinnamon. It tasted like a baked apple crisp.
Seven appetizers is a lot of food to sample, and I did myself proud. Bonefish Grill's signature Bang Bang Shrimp and chicken were both spicy, crispy and saucy, and left a nice lingering heat on my palate, which got cooled off with the ahi tuna sashimi: cool, dense, bright pink tuna lightly seared on the outside and crusted with black and white sesame seeds. It didn't need the wasabi and pickled ginger sides, which is a hallmark of excellent raw fish.
J. Wohletz The Wagyu beef was wasted in the dumplings, but they were still tasty.
I wasn't as impressed with the surf & turf roll as everyone else at the table was; the tempura battered mock-sushi roll had a center of beef, crab and asparagus, but this combo didn't have a lot of flavor. I was far more interested in the Wagyu beef & ginger dumplings, which led to a lively debate among my fellow diners about the legitimacy, price and proper uses of Wagyu beef.