He approaches the table and quietly puts the fish knife to work filleting the whole bronzini with a practiced hand. Using a soft voice he details each step and leans in to reveal the choice strip above the head. In a careful and assured manner, he skillfully removes the spine.
My tableside fish filleter is Laurend Abraham, managing partner at the new SeaBass Kitchen. The restaurant occupies the former Rumi’s Kitchen space on Roswell Road.
SeaBass Kitchen, under the direction of chef Sam Brunola, serves a range of seafood with a few nonwater-dwelling alternatives. Brunola,whose experience includes stints at Van Gogh’s (now Bistro VG) and Horseradish Grill, says his cooking highlights the flavors of the ingredients without masking them with heavy sauces.
Brunola’s food at SeaBass Kitchen reflects his philosophy, with simple preparations featuring Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors. He uses a handful of key ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, lemon, red wine vinegar and oregano that put the seafood front and center, for better or for worse.
It’s for the better in the case of the whole bronzini (European sea bass) that Abraham fillets tableside ($30). The flaky white fish that’s been grilled in a fish basket over an open flame has a mild flavor complemented by the simple seasoning of dried oregano, salt and pepper. A dish of robust olive oil and lemon juice sits to the side, allowing you to dress the fish to taste.
After that, things get murky. Quality ingredients and flawless execution are needed to make these minimalistic dishes work. And when they don’t work, there’s no hiding behind sauces or other masking techniques.
Take the octopus ($10). With the first taste you appreciate the play of the grill char with the acidity and light sweetness from the red wine vinegar and fruity olive oil dressing. But as you continue chewing the octopus, you’ll find it encased in a ring that schleps away in mealy gobs before giving way to the firmer interior.
The grilled prawns ($24) have a similar texture. With just oregano, olive oil, lemon juice and a touch of white wine, the prawns must speak for themselves. And that they do, crying out with the same mealy voice as the octopus.
The fish tends to be safer — if you order carefully. This might be a good time to download the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app. You could order the Chilean sea bass, but the app would suggest that you don’t.
While a small number of fisheries are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable, the restaurant doesn’t hold the Chain of Custody certification documents to track the fish, leaving that responsibility to the supplier.
Inland Seafood, who supplies the Chilean sea bass for SeaBass Kitchen, is not currently MSC-COC certified. The company confirmed that it doesn’t specifically track whether all purchases come from certified fisheries. Yet, I’m told they only buy from regulation-following importers who keep records on the date, time and location of the catch.
You could try the blackened mahi mahi ($16 lunch), but the long-cooked stringy fish might not be what you’d expect. The blackening seasoning consists of smoked paprika, garlic powder and cinnamon, with no heat to be found.
Go for the swordfish shish ($21). Large cubes of the firm fish come threaded on wooden skewers doused with an herby yogurt, the flavor focal point of the dish. The plate also comes with an overly soft and zero-seasoned Israeli couscous. A little squish with your shish.
Speaking of texture, the crabcake-style seafood burger ($12 lunch) has an appealing (and interesting) one. The cornmeal dusting makes for a crisp coating concealing a chunky mixture of lump crab, shrimp, salmon and halibut. The lemon-herb aioli adds a brightness, although not enough to mask the burger’s fishiness.
Sides for entrees include the Israeli couscous, fried potatoes (frozen french fries) tossed with oregano, and SeaBass Kitchen rice, heavily scented with cinnamon and fish sauce. Order the julienne veggies.
If I return to SeaBass Kitchen, my plan will be to start with the Kafteri, a compellingly tangy spread of feta, garlic and oil served with pita from Jerusalem Bakery. Then, I’d order the whole fish and finish with french press coffee and the tiramisu-like mango cream cake ($7) from Joli Kobe.
A perfect synergy can come from simple cooking and clean flavors. But for that to happen, both the execution and sourcing must be approached with the same care Abraham takes with the tableside presentation of the bronzini.SEABASS KITCHEN