Get Hooked: Mitchell's Fish Market

Mitchell's Fish Market, Woodmere

Maybe it's the enormous stainless-steel marlin sculpture in the courtyard or the charming, extremely well-appointed New England seafood-house decor. It could also be the $50,000 cooler dedicated solely to ensuring that all of their products are cut and held at the optimum temperature until served. One way or the other, though, you quickly get the idea that Mitchell's Fish Market is serious about its fish.

All of the restaurant's seafood is flown in daily and the menus, which boast that "fish any fresher would still be in the ocean," are also printed daily to reflect any necessary changes that supply or quality may demand.

On top of all that, the restaurant emphatically maintains that the fish it serves are "top of trip only!" This means that the fish Mitchell's uses were the last fish caught during a commercial fishing boat's voyage.

(For instance, say a long-line swordfish boat heads out into the Atlantic for a 30-day trip. Once the boat reaches the fishing grounds and lays out its lines, it begins — in theory — to catch fish. These fish are eviscerated at sea, packed with ice and placed in the hold. The boat can continue in this fashion for weeks until the hold is full. When the boat returns to port, the haul is priced and divided according to where it lies in the hold. Obviously, the fish caught most recently is on top and commands a higher price. The fish on the bottom, while held in a near-freezing environment, is now nearly three weeks old. This portion of the catch shows up as really good deals at the grocery store, in frozen entrees and as catfood. But we digress...)

Opening last September, Mitchell's Fish Market marks the first Cleveland-area venture for Columbus Ãœber-restaurateur Cameron Mitchell. For those unfamiliar with Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, they got their start in 1993, with the opening of Cameron's American Bistro in Worthington, Ohio.

Mitchell, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who worked his way up through the ranks of the now-defunct 55 Restaurant Group in Columbus, set a goal that he would one day oversee a corporation comprising several restaurant concepts. He's succeeded wildly with 13 variously themed restaurants in the Columbus area and seven Fish Markets in Ohio and surrounding states. Two more Mitchell's Fish Markets are slated to open this year.

Mitchell's Fish Market has apparently set out to stake its claim in the most simple, yet complex way possible: Do a better job than the competition. The Cameron Mitchell Restaurants stated goal is: "To be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today." While it would be difficult for any reviewer to monitor the success of this intent on a day-to-day basis, our visits to Mitchell's Fish Market showed few areas requiring substantial betterment, despite a couple of slight misfires.

The huge menu at Mitchell's covers most all of the potential needs a seafood diner could possibly have. There is a raw bar featuring cherrystone clams on the half shell (six for $6.95), jumbo shrimp cocktail ($8.95), a half-pound of peel 'n' eat shrimp ($10.95), a lump crabmeat cocktail with Crab Louie sauce ($10.95) and, of course, oysters on the half shell ($1.95 each).

When asked how the market for raw oysters is, general manager Nick Ridenour happily says that Mitchell's Eton location is leading all of its other restaurants in oyster sales. Evidently, we Clevelanders are no longer the meat-and-potatoes culture we once were. (Incidentally, for our fellow oyster fans out there, Wednesday is $1 oyster night at Mitchell's, offering connoisseurs the opportunity to slurp as many of the Market's four or more daily varieties as they wish with less of a financial impact.)

The menu also features three tasty soups — clam chowder, seafood gumbo and lobster bisque — served as either cups or bowls (priced between $3.50 and $4.95) and all made fresh in-house. Eight appetizers range from such classics as Wild Blue mussels ($7.95) in a white-wine, garlic, tomato broth; garlic fried calamari ($7.95); and the ubiquitous Chesapeake Bay crab cake ($9.95) to more updated starters such as the seared rare salt 'n' pepper tuna ($8.50) with sticky rice, a tasty Asian cucumber slaw, apricot-ale sauce and wasabi. This last dish was so tasty and well executed that, despite the diversity we should have been seeking on a return trip, we had to order it again.

Among the very few stumbles we encountered were the littleneck steamers ($10.95), which were served in a tasteless broth that appeared to lack the white wine, garlic or butter promised on the menu. Oversights, though, can occur on a busy Friday night in a 300-seat restaurant and the error was not repeated on a subsequent visit.

Salads at Mitchell's Fish Market are essentially standard fare, though each arrived chilled, well dressed and exactly as expected. The beefsteak tomato salad ($5.50) with creamy cabernet dressing, fresh spinach, red onion and bleu cheese was a savory rendition of the steakhouse classic. The Titanic Wedge of Iceberg ($4.50) with Thousand Island dressing, tomato, bacon and egg also proved very good, thanks to the fresh, homemade taste of the dressing itself. (A personal aside: With all due credit to several area restaurateurs, it may be time to explore a new moniker for this salad that doesn't denote the early 20th-century maritime disaster. Perhaps the "Burpee" Wedge of Iceberg, as the lettuce itself was first cultivated by the W. Atlee Burpee Seed Co., also right around the turn of the century? Perhaps not.)

Eventually, at Mitchell's Fish Market, one faces choosing from the daunting number of entrees. To begin, each of the restaurant's 11 varieties of fin fish (plus sea scallops) — ranging from Atlantic cod ($14.50) to yellowfin tuna ($19.95) — are available either grilled, blackened or broiled and served with garlic mashed potatoes and the day's market vegetables, or Shanghai style: steamed with ginger and scallions, sticky rice, spinach and rice-wine soy sauce. According to Ridenour, the Shanghai style is the most popular. Of the fish selections, Chilean sea bass ($19.95) is the top seller, suggesting that the public seems to have gotten over the hysteria regarding the fish's imminent swim into extinction.

Many of the fish are served in a composed dish. Of these, we sampled the Atlantic cod fish 'n' chips ($14.50), classically presented with french fries, hush puppies, coleslaw and tartar sauce. While this may seem a simplistic selection, the measure of any seafood restaurant can be found in doing the simple things well. As it turned out, the dish was quite good and exactly as hoped.

Pan-seared sea scallops ($18.50), cornmeal dusted and accompanied by red-pepper risotto, sautéed spinach and a poblano-corn cream sauce, were somewhat overcooked, though we have known diners to balk at the translucency that denotes a perfectly done scallop, demanding that the shellfish be cooked through.

For those wishing to guarantee their entree is done to their liking, the hoisin-glazed yellowfin tuna ($19.95) with stir-fried Asian vegetables, sticky-rice firecracker roll and wasabi is excellent and best served medium rare — as are the steak dishes, such as the 14-ounce New York strip ($21.95) or filet Oscar ($27.95) topped with jumbo lump crabmeat and béarnaise sauce.

As a thoughtful choice for the indecisive, Mitchell's also offers several combination platters or samplers that will allow you to try several dishes at once or one item prepared in several ways. The Market Trio ($19.95) features blackened mahimahi, pan-seared scallops and cedar-roasted Atlantic salmon. The Shrimp, Shrimp, Shrimp ($18.95) consists of the world's favorite crustaceans broiled, beer-battered and N'Awlins BBQ style. (Even as we write this, we know that you're all out there thinking, Bubba Gump, so don't get all smug.)

Mitchell's also offers Alaskan king crab legs ($35.95), twin Australian rock lobster tails ($38.95), and 1 1/2-pound live Maine lobsters (steamed and cracked for $24.95 or baked and crab-stuffed for $29.50). For die-hard hommardaphiles (yeah, made that up), every Monday at Mitchell's is Lobster Monday, when the clawed guys go for $19.95 each, steamed, cracked and served with a sea-salt baked potato, green beans and mushrooms.

In all, if you're looking for quality seafood served in a great atmosphere by a group that prides itself on delivering an excellent dining experience, Mitchell's Fish Market is worth the drive, whether you're a block away or across town.

Incidentally, Mitchell's also proffers several excellent desserts made by in-house pastry chef Lisa Schaber, but we're too full to discuss them right now.

Mitchell's Fish Market, 28601 Chagrin Blvd., Eton in Woodmere, (216) 765-FISH (3474). Hours: Lunch: Mon-Sat 11:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Sunday brunch: 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.; dinner: Mon-Thu 4 - 10 p.m., Fri and Sat 4 - 11 p.m., Sun 3 - 9 p.m.

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