Fish Review: A Sea of Change

Mike Stollenwerk’s second seafood restaurant holds onto that neighborhood vibe

The entrée section of the menu is dominated, as you would expect, by fish dishes. Old regulars will be happy to find the familiar meaty skate wing paired with truffle-infused spaetzle and leeks in a creamy parmesan broth. And the considered creativity that is the chef’s trademark remains in full flower. He reinterprets classic clams and linguine with an inspired bowl of clam broth, tender wild clams and orzo, topped with fresh chilies, slivers of preserved lemon, celery leaves, and a perfectly cooked portion of crispy-skinned striped bass.

There are a few misses: A flavorful mélange of brussels sprouts, oyster mushrooms and bacon in a mustard-kissed sauce is wasted on a flavorless hunk of farm-raised salmon. The plump scallops paired with mushrooms and creamy truffled sauce are well–executed, but absent the inspiration present in so many other dishes. And the lone steak dish, a concession to the inevitable seafood-phobic diner, reveals in its lackluster flavor the chef’s apathy toward meat.

Stick to dishes that sound a little quirky; look for combinations like beets and chicken skin. The chef elevates the usually boring beet salad with the addition of crouton-like bits of fried chicken skin, the salty crunch adding depth of flavor and a titillating textural contrast. The idea for the dish came to the chef over a quick dinner he made at home for his wife, another little culinary coincidence that resulted in a memorable menu addition.

From the confines of Little Fish, Stollenwerk became a pretty big star. Part of that restaurant’s appeal, though, lies in its claustrophobic intimacy; it’s a marvel what the chef can pull off in so small a space. At Fish, a full-size and full-scale Center City restaurant, Stollenwerk will need to grow along with the wine–augmented check averages and diners’ swelling expectations. Service, though friendly, is painfully slow and uninformed, and needs some polish to meet the standard set by the food. But even if Fish needs to work out a few kinks, its 33-year-old chef-owner clearly has the talent needed to make his restaurant the city’s go-to seafood spot.