Seafood for contemporary tastes

Blue Sea Grill mixes the simple and the creative in a hip setting

Sunday Gourmet

April 18, 2004|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Not long after we lost one New Wave seafood restaurant, another has surfaced.

It remains to be seen whether Baltimore will embrace Blue Sea Grill when it didn't support the hip Canton restaurant Atlantic. We seem to like our seafood restaurants traditionally decorated and Eastern Shore-oriented.

But the new place does have one important thing going for it. Blue Sea Grill is owned by savvy restaurateur Steve de Castro's Big Steaks Management Inc. It recently opened in the spot next to Power Plant Live where Cafe Asia, and then Red Coral, quickly came and went. Blue Sea is between De Castro's Babalu Grill and Ruth's Chris; he seems to be creating his own restaurant row.

Blue Sea Grill is the current spot to see and be seen, a place to nibble on domestic caviar and sip a Blue Hawaii martini. Its bar and dining areas are chic and minimalist, with bare wood floors and a strictly contemporary look, except for the traditional seacoast art on the walls. The curvy architecture of the late-lamented Cafe Asia has morphed easily into a sensuous wave-like decor, with some walls painted a deep blue and others aqua. Metal mesh curtain dividers suggest fountains or falls. The tableware is a watery translucent blue and green.

Blue Sea's menu is more straightforward than the decor would suggest. The platings are elaborate, with pretty squiggles of sauce and artfully arranged embellishments, but the preparation is fairly basic. Most of the shellfish and fish are raw or simply grilled, broiled or pan-fried. Everything is a la carte.

If I went again, I'd probably get the Grand Raw Platter and nothing else. (We didn't order it this time -- the price tag is a hefty $69 for an appetizer for two to four; but we did try the raw shellfish on its own.) On the platter, icy-fresh raw oysters (there are usually six different kinds available) and littleneck or cherrystone clams are joined by Maine lobster, shrimp and crab meat (the last three cooked, of course). A zippy cocktail sauce, suave ginger wasabi sauce, and a mignonette sauce add a pleasant little jolt to the raw bar items, but they don't really need it. The platter, with a bottle from the Blue Sea's predominantly American wine list, would be a fine light meal for two.

If cooked shellfish is more your thing, "The Big One" mussels pretty much live up to their name. The bowl, overflowing with shellfish, is big; but so is each plump beauty. Their white wine, garlic and butter sauce didn't seem to have any garlic; if the mussels hadn't been so good on their own, we might have complained.

Blue Sea does a fat little crab cake for an appetizer, full of lump crab and sauteed to a golden crust. It rests on a pretty pattern of creamy remoulade, with a homemade potato chip or two for garnish. The tuna tartare is more spectacular, a beautiful mound of deeply red raw tuna graced with a smooth creme fraiche strategically studded with tobiko caviar (flying-fish roe). You could stop the meal right here as far as I'm concerned.

The menu is huge, but not everything is on tap every day. There are checks beside the seafood that's available -- perhaps four whole fish, four fillets and a couple of fish steaks.

Our waitress did a double take when my friend asked for her swordfish steak rare; she came back to report that the kitchen strongly recommended medium. The result worked for me: The fish was thick and firm, cooked all the way through but not overcooked.

The whole yellowtail snapper, a mild Florida fish, was also gorgeously fresh; but the kitchen wasn't given any direction, so it was overcooked and slightly mushy. Your best bet is to tell your server exactly how you like it. There's not much margin for error when the preparation is this simple.

Not everything is simple. Blue Sea does an extravagant stuffed flounder, boned but with the tail still on for decoration. It's filled with a rich crab imperial, and if that weren't enough, it swims in a lemony beurre blanc. Not for the faint of heart. An enormous piece of catfish filet, battered, fried and drizzled with a peppy creole sauce, also delivers plenty of pow.

Vegetables and other side dishes are creative here. The best of the ones we tried were green beans sauteed with cherry tomatoes with a sprinkling of feta. Creamed spinach with white wine, cream and crab meat fought for star billing with our entrees, but "lobster mac n' cheese" felt like overkill. Give the kids the shells with cheese and keep the lobster lumps for yourself. Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, our waitress's recommendation, weren't exciting, but they were every bit as good as she said.

Blue Sea has a killer dessert, a small square of old-fashioned pineapple upside-down cake gilded with ice cream and creme anglaise. It was great, but it would be even more great if it were served heated rather than chilled.

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