There's a new chef at Wildfish, Keith Stich, but the scene is still wild and the menu is still all about fish. It's a rare visit when the bar isn't buzzin', yet the restaurant continues to serve serious food.
The dramatic, ultra-modern décor is accented with theatrical lighting. The bar area is the focal point of the imposing space with a huge, abstract, whale backbone sculpture floating above it.
The rest of the very attractive, large room is broken up into cozier dining areas. There is also a lushly planted outdoor patio area with its own bar and two fire pits.
We happily pondered our options while sitting in a comfortable leather booth, munching on the very best sourdough bread we've ever encountered. It has a crunchy crust and a dense, complexly flavored interior. The size of the portions and the prices led us to share one selection for each course.
Our very pleasant and accommodating waitress amiably offered to have the dishes split in the kitchen at no charge. At this point, let us mention that all the service, from the hostess to the busboy, was attentive and gracious.
Tasty, thin soba noodles provided a bed for sesame-crusted seared ahi. This appetizer portion could easily have passed for an entrée.
The noodles were tossed in a simple sauce of oil and soy with a bit of vinegar and sugar. Daikon radish sprouts and a dollop of wasabi that we stirred into the dish gave it the liveliness it needed. Although the sliced fish was clearly high quality and very tender, it somehow lacked depth of flavor.
A nice appetizer for sharing is the chilled shellfish tower with eight shrimp, four crab claws and eight oysters. Charred steak "tartare" is designed to please the meat lovers in your party. Wildfish's take on this classic is to sear and thinly slice the steak and serve it with onion, horseradish and Tabasco-caper vinaigrette.
Meat lovers will also be more than happy with the choice of four center cuts of aged, grain-fed beef. Outstanding among these is the 22-ounce bone-in rib eye that overlaps the entire plate on which it is served. This is one humongous hunk of protein.
Fresh Maine lobster appears in tacos with house-made tortillas and roasted corn pico de gallo or in rich lobster bisque with brandy and cream.
All of the entrees are served a la carte, but there is an extensive list of side dishes, which can be ordered in a small or large portion, including: spicy crab-fried rice with mushrooms, truffled macaroni and cheese, and Brussels sprouts with bacon and shallots.
We ordered asparagus with hollandaise sauce to accompany our Chilean sea bass. In the past we have chosen the Hong Kong-style preparation, so this time we opted for the roasted filet with lemon and garlic.
The bass was a beautiful piece of fish, cooked to ethereal perfection with a light golden crust and succulent flesh. Unfortunately, the thin sauce was intensely lemony and, if a garlic clove had touched it at any point, it wasn't in evidence. Luckily, we had the amazing hollandaise sauce that came with our heap of excellent steamed asparagus, which we used lavishly on both the fish and the vegetable.
For dessert, we were tempted by the fresh blackberry cobbler, which we simply couldn't resist and ultimately couldn't finish because it was yet again another bountiful portion.
Although it was perfectly to our taste, we must admit we like desserts less sweet than most people. The berries were fruity but tart and the crust was thin and crispy, almost crackery, with a sprinkle of powdered sugar on the top.
Wildfish provides the unusual combination of a noisy, energetic bar scene with a casual high-end dining establishment.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wildfish Seafood Grille
Where: 1370 Bison Ave., Newport Beach
4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday
4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
4 to 10 p.m. on Sunday
Appetizers: $8-$18, plus market prices for certain items
Entrées: $18-$44, plus market prices for certain items
1/2 Bottles: $18-99
Corkage Fee: $20
Information: (949) 720-9925; wildfishseafoodgrille.com