Solid seafood with an Asian flair just blocks from campus
Grill Fish Cafe
814 S. 47th St.
Don’t Miss: Fried Calamari Appetizer
Skip: Pan Fried Tilapia
Grill Fish Cafe brings West Philadelphia fresh fish with a Southeast Asian kick. After many of Benny Lai’s customers asked for more seafood dishes at Vietnam Cafe and Vietnam Restaurant, the West Philly/Chinatown chef gave in and decided to focus on seafood for his third restaurant, Grill Fish. The restaurant opened in January after many months of speculation about an early fall debut; Benny’s uncle is an astrological expert and was given the task of deciding the most promising month for the opening.
The large double doors of Grill Fish stay propped open, allowing for a nice breeze to blow through the restaurant and making it a great spot for a light seafood dinner on a spring night. The restaurant seats about 25 and provides an intimate dining experience surrounded by exposed brick and blue ceilings, doused in dim lighting.
We started with the fried calamari ($10), which was served with a pile of diced peppers and shredded basil on top and a spicy lime sauce on the side. The calamari was lightly breaded and perfectly fried. The salt and pepper in the batter made the squid flavorful with or without the tangy sauce.
Our next appetizer was the garlic shrimp ($12) served in a red sauce made of garlic, sake, basil and tomato. The shrimp was fresh and the sauce tasted like a flavorful marinara, but the dish seemed to be an Italian outlier on a mostly Asian menu. Other appetizer options include steamed mussels and clams, grilled squid and octopus and grilled vegetables.
For our second course, we tried the pan–fried tilapia ($16) and mussels noodle ($15). The tilapia was breaded in finely–ground breadcrumbs and then fried, giving the fish a crunchy crust on the outside but leaving it soft on the inside. A grape tomato sauce accented the dish’s Vietnamese roots, unlike the shrimp appetizer we had tried. The sauce had a boost of fresh ginger and cilantro, but the sauteed spinach on the side lacked flavor.
The mussels noodle came in a large soup bowl. The mussels were fresh, and the thick rice noodles at the bottom of the bowl absorbed the garlic and sake broth nicely. Thanks to some red pepper flakes, the dish had a spicy flavor, but would have benefited from the addition of another component to the dish, like vegetables, to give it more depth. Grill Fish offers chicken and lamb for those who prefer meat and serves a regularly changing whole grilled fish — branzino, bass and others.
The servers were friendly and helpful when guiding us through their menu. Yet, they were at times a little too attentive, replacing the bowl for our shells every four mussels that we ate.
Overall, Grill Fish Cafe has all of the makings of a great restaurant: fresh ingredients, bold flavors and a nice atmosphere. However, the entrees fell slightly flat. It’s worth the stroll up Baltimore Avenue to enjoy some seafood appetizers and a full bar, but if you’re looking for a meal that won’t come up short, go to Lai’s Vietnam Cafe next door.