Deep sea: 

Fish City Grill
18130 281 North @
Loop 1604
495-3474
11am-10pm daily
Credit cards
Price range: $5.99-$16.99
Accessible
Should you happen to idly google “escolar,” you’re in for a rude surprise. Often and erroneously (but poetically) referred to as “white tuna,” this deep-dwelling ocean fish is also frequently (and indelicately) called “the Ex-Lax fish” by those who have suffered its wrath. I blush to admit that I went through this exercise only after consuming a portion of escolar — just to see what it tasted like — at Fish City Grill, a Dallas-based chain that has recently put down anchor in San Antonio. Needless to say, the chalkboard did not indicate that many (but not all) people apparently react quite adversely to the fish’s high content of indigestible oil — at least according to numerous postings on blogs and other sites. (Escolar was briefly flagged by the FDA in the ’90s.)

Now, of course, you’re all dying to know if your intrepid eater suffered any such symptoms. No. A couple of those postings suggested that grilling drains some of the oil, and that any amount under 6 ounces is unlikely to cause distress. Though Fish City is caught up in the large-portion syndrome  afflicts many restaurants, my dining companion and I shared the serving. We are nevertheless left to wonder why a restaurant (this or any other) that posts raw-oyster warnings on its menu should risk serving a fish that might compromise the digestive system of a percentage, however small, of diners.

We also wonder why the fish arrived nearly raw. “If you overcook it, it gets rubbery,” claimed our waitress. (It’s almost impossible to overcook due to its high oil content, claimed more than one blogger; the folks at Central Market simply say it’s oily, and “you cook it like any other fish steak.”)  Nevertheless, it was returned to the kitchen.  Acceptably firm, the more-cooked fish was also delicate and, though we didn’t know to look for it at the time, not notably oily. The accompanying steamed vegetables, in need of oil, were almost punitively plain, and a rice pilaf perfumed with bay leaves did its job dutifully.

Fish City does call your attention to websites on menu items such as the Maryland crab cake. If you click on the menu link at Fishcitygrill.com you’re taken to a seafood purveyor, and for the life of me I couldn’t find fresh blue crab anywhere on its list. Lots of surimi-like pollack products, some with a trace amount of real crab mixed in, but nothing that inspired confidence. The flat pattie was a little pasty (no serious flakes of crabmeat to be found) but not necessarily ersatz-tasting, due in part to its Old Bay seasoning.

It’s worth going online once more (Theperfectoyster.com) to check out the Gold Band Oysters proudly purveyed by Fish City. What you’ll find explained there is a pressure-treating process that effectively “pre-shucks” the oyster (the pressure detaches the muscle that fixes the oyster to its shell), making for faster serving time and extending shelf life — all at no detriment to either taste or texture, according to the site. I returned to taste the oysters with a glass of Blue Fish German riesling (far better than expected) and can attest to the fact that the texture was fine — apart from a bit of crunchiness at the muscle end of the mollusk. And the flavor was good, too: faintly briny and certainly fresh. (The waiter seemed to think these babies came from Corpus, but anybody who kept calling me “Boss Man” isn’t necessarily to be trusted on this score.)

Fried oysters are likely sourced pre-shucked, but FC’s oyster nachos sported some very fine, cornmeal coated fellows indeed. True, they were garnished with excessive quantities of pico de gallo and salady stuff (and we did add small jolts of the Cajun Chef hot sauce on the table), but I’d order these again. I’m less sure about the oysters that came on my Combination Seafood Dinner; they were seriously over-fried. Note, however, that FC allows you to have each item on this platter cooked as you want it. The grilled shrimp came blackened, not grilled, by mistake, but were replaced, and the blackened catfish won the day, proving once again that this lowly fish can be fine when well-treated.

Quickly, here are some other items sampled — none of which require googling. The Louisiana pot roast does have hints of Cajun country, and it’s both good and gigantic; the fried crawfish po’ boy is saved only by its spicy remoulade — the mud bug nuggets themselves taste mainly of the coating; the combo gumbo is serious, with an appealing, earthy taste; and the bread pudding with caramel whiskey sauce isn’t noticeably boozy, but it’s hard to stop eating it. As corporate as Fish City seems in décor and approach, the pudding is the essence of gently upscaled down-home. Just what the FC folks seem to be striving for. 


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