Matthew Lickona 7 a.m., April 26
Fish Public opens strong
Kensington's new restaurant of note serves shellfish with style, flounders on the drinks, but rallies with impeccable service.
Fish Public (4055 Adams Avenue, 619-281-4014) got its fair share of hype following the public closing of the Kensington Grill and the onslaught of hyperbolic PR surrounding the new seafood restaurant’s development. But there’s no denying that the Urban Kitchen Group does not play games. Fish Public’s concept, food, and service are already tight, even a short while after opening. Much like Cucina Urbana, which held the “hottest spot around” title for a long time after it opened, Fish Public shows Urban Kitchen’s particular flair for effective restaurants...insipid names and all.
Fish Public (which means what, exactly?) is not just another Baja fish house. It’s pan-oceanic, if anything. The interior decorations seem robbed from Cape Cod and the Hamptons. Except for the fact that it’s too dark inside after the sun goes down, the restaurant tastefully evokes the beach communities of the northeastern seacoast.
The drinks menu focuses much more on wine and $9-$10 cocktails than beer, which is odd for San Diego, but appropriate to the menu. Drinks failed to equal the best that Adams Avenue has to offer. Development of the cocktail menu must be ongoing, though the drinks menu that hits the tables right now is unchanged from the older menu on the website. The “Shandy,” for one, was all wrong for its name. Too sweetly laden with pomegranate syrup and the bubblegum aftertaste of a wheat beer, it cloyed when it should have refreshed. The classic Irish mixer--usually a 50/50 mix of ale and 7-Up--is perfect for seafood, which makes the weak replacement seem more unsuitable by comparison. The “Lindbergh” (gin, maraschino, rose syrup, and lemon) was better, though still underwhelming.
Especially compared to the oysters. Now it’s time to rave a little.
Fish Public’s oyster service was nearly without flaw. A server with impeccable training (the biggest hallmark of Urban Kitchen restaurants) detailed each oyster in loving detail. Her superb efforts at comparing and contrasting petite Baja oysters with rich, meaty North Atlantic varieties set the stage for a svelte service of oysters from around the country. The kitchen’s modest tray of horseradish, hot sauce, lemon, and diced onions made it clear that the oysters could be augmented however, or not at all. It’s important to remember that oysters, though sometimes expensive, are a simple food. Fish Public got it exactly right.
The remainder of the dinner menu proved a bit hard to decipher. The move to sell proteins separately from side dishes blurred the line between apps and entrees, and also smacked of a Malarkey-esque attempt to disguise $30+ plates with $20 prices. It will be very easy to overspend at Fish Public.
That said, it’s a good menu with solid items that display a simple, technique-driven cooking style. Whole roasted fish, deboned and ready to eat, called out, but even a simple sole “a la plancha” with almonds, green beans, and brown butter became a nice dish with a side of creamed corn and some excellent zucchini salad. Kale and potato tacos, the vegetarian entree option, exceeded expectations. Clearly, care has been taken to please those who eschew fish.
The simplicity of the cooking doesn’t line up with the relative expense of the menu, but the execution (of preparation and service) is well above average, on par with more expensive restaurants. This concurs with Urban Kitchen’s reputation of being totally dialed-in at all times, and that degree of professionalism ultimately justifies an elevated price. It’s already very good, and it’s likely that Fish Public will only become a better restaurant as time goes by.