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Critic: Nicole Plett. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February

16, 2000. All rights reserved.

Dining Out: The Fish House

Honestly fresh fish and shellfish served in a

theatrical

and somewhat noisy setting is what you’ll find at the Fish House,

Jim Hamilton’s newest restaurant recently opened in Lambertville.

Located in the middle of town, just off Bridge Street, next to the

canal, the Fish House is right in the swim of things, and making good

on its promise of fresh, top-quality seafood impressively prepared

to enhance but never mask inherent character.

Hamilton, a former Broadway scenic producer with credits that include

"Equus," "Hair," and the Ringling Brothers Circus,

strives to bring a bit of theater to his restaurant spaces. The Fish

House is designed to be more casual than his popular Hamilton’s Grill

Room. It bills its food as "no nonsense fish house fare,"

yet the quality of the dishes my companion and I enjoyed could readily

support a more elegant setting. Executive chef Paul Ripley, who has

been working in New York restaurants for a decade, was recruited from

the New York Yacht Club.

The most active theatrical element here is the kitchen, with a

two-story

dining room that wraps around it on all sides, with an open wood

grill,

raw bar, and a steaming system which, when opened, emits steam worthy

of Broadway’s best fog machine. Thus located at center stage, chef

and chef’s assistants work busily amidst a clatter of pots, pans,

and dishes. While this makes for a fascinating sight for the

downstairs

diners, the drawback is the big metal hood and venting ducts that

rise up through the space, accompanied by the persistent sound of

the fan. Even on a recent winter week night, the capacity crowd of

diners, many in groups of four and six, had to raise their voices

above the ambient noise.

The upstairs dining-room, set off by a 40-foot-long mural in pleasing

underwater tones, would seem to offer a quieter locale, particularly

for couples. An intriguing mural, inspired by Russian folk art and

painted on weathered boards by New York artist Ilia Barger, depicts

"The Marriage Ceremony of the Czar’s Daughter to Neptune."

Both daughter, surrounded by her attentive retinue, and czar, are

clearly visible, although I never located Neptune amidst the Russian

fur.

Greeting every diner who enters the Fish House is a

glass case filled with an array of seafood on ice that serves double

duty as a retail counter and a preview of things to come. Yes, the

scallops (at $18 per pound) looked just as good here as they proved

on the plate in the form of one of the evening’s entree specials,

Curry Seared Sea Scallops.

Settling into our downstairs table for two about eight feet from the

chef’s serving station, we were offered a selection of appetizers,

priced from $3.75 to $8, that included a special pan roast soup of

scallops and oysters. A raw bar selection is also offered, as well

as seafood and green salads. The bucket of at least 20 large, plump,

tender steamed mussels ($7) selected by my partner would have

comfortably

served us both. My own house-smoked salmon, impressive and full of

character, was served simply on toasted French bread with a garnish

of red onion and creme fraiche ($7).

From a wide choice of entrees — nothing, by the way, is fried

here — my companion chose the Curry Seared Sea Scallops special.

Priced at $21, this dish was at the high end of the entrees. The

preparation

of six sea scallops, lightly dusted in a spice blend and topped with

a dab of pesto, was designed to place the big moist scallops squarely

at center stage. I was equally well pleased by my choice of a regular

menu item, Seared Cod with Ginger Glaze. Modestly priced at $12, this

dish provided a hearty serving of marvelously light, moist cod, with

a hint on crispness on the outside where it met the mild ginger glaze.

Both entrees were accompanied by a tasty mixture of rice, wild rice,

and beluga lentils, and the vegetable of the evening, roasted fennel,

a welcome palate cleanser.

Other entrees include lobster served "any way" at market

price,

a whole fish of the day, seared tuna, crab cakes, grilled Scottish

salmon, seafood pot pie, and a Fisherman’s Pasta plate topped with

eight varieties of fish and shellfish; the latter three all under

$15.

The small selection of homemade desserts included fresh peaches

poached

in Port wine, house special bread pudding, creme brulee, or a

flourless

chocolate cake topped with cream.

This restaurant is BYOB, with wine service at the table encouraged,

so come prepared.

The Fish House wall of giant stainless-steel fish scales, down which

water customarily cascades, was suffering from frozen pipes the

evening

we dined and non-functional. But this was one of the few flaws at

this new locale that provides a pleasing reminder that we do indeed

live on the Atlantic seaboard.

— Nicole Plett

The Fish House, 2 Canal Street, Lambertville,

609-397-6477.

Open seven days a week; retail fish market opens daily at 10 a.m.

Lunch served daily from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner Monday to

Saturday,

5:30 to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m. BYOB.


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