BIG, NEW YORK bucks recently overtook the old Pleasant Beach Grill spot on Bainbridge Island, slicking up the interior to House Beautiful specs but doing little to improve upon what has always been an exceptionally gracious layout. Moonfish is the name of this new incarnation. Off to the left is the bar, a small sunken library that remains a cozy masterpiece. The restaurant to the right is a photo spread from a glossy magazine, with light gushing in from all sides and the heartbreaking verdancy of rural Bainbridge, framing the sweep of Pleasant Beach outside the window. The interior may be elegance ࠬa mode, but this gentle prospect is pure 1942. Moonfish
4738 Lynwood Center NE, Bainbridge Island, 780-3473
lunch Mon-Fri 11:30am-2pm; dinner Sun-Wed 5:30-9pm, Thu-Sat 5:30-10pm
AE, MC, V; full bar Strictly on aesthetic grounds, Moonfish is already a destination for mainlanders. (Consider leaving your car around the Madison Street dock and walking on to the 5:25pm, 6:15pm, or 7pm ferry, since car lines are a nightmare, then hire a cab for the $9-or-so ride to the restaurant. You can call the cab in advance: 842-7660.) But I'm getting ahead of myself here; does Moonfish's food reward such excessive transportation? We ate lavishly, twice, to find out. Our first meal began with four dishes from the multicategoried starter selection. ("Small adventures," soups, salads, and "wood-fired flatbreads" are your choices—a nice lot of options for light or promiscuous nibblers.) A salad of spinach, candied walnuts, and sweet roasted pears ($7) was a light combination with a too-light lemon yogurt- poppyseed vinaigrette; it verged on bland. By contrast, a panko-crusted Dungeness crab cake ($10), tall as a top hat, was expertly offset by a tangy sweet-and-sour rhubarb compote and punctuated with creamy dollops of wasabi mayonnaise. This dish was intelligent, sparked with invention, and a really good nosh. Not so the rosemary-skewered spotted prawns ($8), which featured unshelled prawns crowned with roe and skewered on rosemary sprigs, served with fennel slaw alongside pungent olives and seared prosciutto, and—whoa, there!--ringed with a thick, sweet beet reduction. Aside from being monumentally awkward to eat—couldn't someone back there have peeled these little beasties?—the dish was a confusion of flavors. (Perhaps it seems peevish at this point to add that the shrimp were overdone, but. . . .) WE ALSO ORDERED one of the flatbreads, caramelized leek and aged goat cheese ($8), and found it delightful and vividly flavored, on a smoky, crusty disc. This item actually read "Caramelized leek and mushroom aged goat cheese," which compelled us to ask our waiter whether "mushroom-aging" was some newfangled method for processing cheese; he blushed earnestly and said it was a menu typo. So when the flatbread arrived sans mushrooms we inquired again and he again blushed earnestly and said there'd been a mistake in the kitchen. The poor man was so horrified we dismissed it until we discovered that one of our entr饳, grilled Hawaiian mahi-mahi over jasmine rice with pineapple and curried green apple chutney ($18), had arrived sans pineapple and curried green apple chutney. Oh dear, our waiter lamented, another mistake in the kitchen. Hmm. I mean, the dish was perfectly nice, the firm fish delicious over a kind of fried rice arrangement dotted with ginger-kissed fresh vegetables, but at this point we were beginning to wonder. David Perlman, the chef, hails from (among other places) Rouelle's and Birdland in New York and indeed conceives some dishes masterfully. My special was sea bass in spring vegetable gazpacho with an Anaheim chile-pistachio pesto ($20); I loved how the light oiliness of the fish played off the rich oiliness of the flavorful nut paste and how the whole waded in fresh tomato broth. This was a star dish, diminished only by its lack of accompanying starch. Our other dishes that night were forgettable. Scallop and lobster risotto ($19) also featured eggplant, asparagus, and wild mushrooms; it was fine. A filet of king salmon wrapped in phyllo ($17) was also fine, but received little benefit from its ginger-soy white butter sauce. It was so minimalist we wondered if perhaps the kitchen had made another mistake . . . but we hadn't the heart to ask our waiter. Instead we went straight to dessert (all $6), floating home on a cloud of chocolate toffee chip mousse and white chocolate hazelnut cr譥 brl饮 WHEN WE FLOATED back the next week we had a different waiter who appeared no more intimately acquainted with the kitchen than our first. We liked our flatbread again, this time white clam, arugula, roasted garlic, and Parmesan ($8), but found the crust soggy where the crackle should have been. A bowl of potato-leek soup ($4) was texturally robust and clear flavored. Scallop and mixed vegetable tempura ($8) arrived gorgeous, like a bold Asian painting in a triangular frame, offset by drizzles of hoisin-lime oil, a galangal-soy dipping sauce, and a festive confetti of tomato and green onion. Alas, the sauce was too heavy and the tempura too gummy—the whole not half delicate enough. Disillusioned with Moonfish's fish, we shifted our emphasis to meat, which turned out to be an excellent strategy. Grilled medallions of pork loin ($18) arrived tender, with cream and Port and sweetened with morels. Grilled rosemary lamb chops in a sweet-onion demi-glace ($19) arrived atop creamy mashed Yukon golds, with rods of asparagus and pretty florets of roasted acorn squash (what a great idea!). Best was the slow-roasted Asian style duckling, ($18), its meat dark and rich and delectable swabbed in its wild blackberry demi-glace. At last, we had stumbled onto Moonfish's strength—and it was not, contrary to the expectations of its name, fish. Nor, while we're on the subject, was it service or consistency or the kitchen's ability to follow a recipe. No, Moonfish's strength appears to be meat and fowl; all of which were extremely enjoyable within these glorious quarters but probably not, in the end, worth the fleet of planes, trains, and automobiles it took for this mainlander to get there. Not yet, anyway. The new summer menu has reportedly made its appearance. Work on your consistency and change your name to Moonmeat, folks . . . then we'll talk.