SHELLFISH MOTIVES

The only reason to come here is the seafood. The best part of our meal is the fish itself. I love both the succulent ahi tuna and the tender, flaky red mountain trout, a delicate cross between salmon and trout. The shrimp cocktail seems a bit expensive for five large shrimp, but I'm just crazy about Dana Centrella's cocktail sauce--it's fantastic.

Obviously, the major difference between cooking food to order as a side business and running a real restaurant is service. This is the area where the new Seafood Market must make its biggest efforts to improve.

Granted, our waiter is brand-new, but why is he on the floor alone if he doesn't know what he's doing? That's not his fault, it's the management's. Tentative to the point of fearful, he describes greaseless Cajun fries as "being like at Arby's," forgets part of our order and, after bringing our entrees, doesn't return to check on us. The final faux pas occurs when he slaps our bill on the table before asking if we'd like coffee or dessert. (We don't, but he should have offered.)

Location Info

Map

The Seafood Market and Restaurant

3406 E. Baseline Road
Mesa, AZ 85204

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Mesa

His attire doesn't help matters. Yeah, we're in the desert, but shorts just don't cut it. Want a casual look? Have the guys wear khaki Dockers.

Finally, what's wrong with the hostess? She seems worried, preoccupied and just a little grouchy. C'mon, lighten up, put on a happy face. Or better yet, hire someone with restaurant-management experience to take over the job for her, someone who can train waiters and supervise the dining room.

I love the original Seafood Market. But some of the formula that makes it so special is missing at the more ambitious Mesa enterprise.

When I walk into What a Catch Seafood in north Scottsdale, I have a strong sense of deja vu. There are the brightly lighted cases of fresh fish on ice. There are the tanks of live lobsters and Dungeness crabs, and the racks of seasonings and spices for sale. A fellow behind the counter asks if he can help me.

"We want to order lunch," I say. He points to the day's specials on the board, then leaves to help some retail customers while my accomplice and I debate our choices. We order, then sit at a white plastic table by the window next to a display of drum-sized cans of Charles Chips. "I love those," I confess to my accomplice. "When my sister was in high school, they delivered them to our house every week." "Yeah?" he says.

From speakers positioned above the lobster tanks come the sounds of breaking surf. Vintage Van Halen pours from the kitchen. Diver Down! We wonder if the seaside roar is to comfort the lobsters or the humans. I find the surf sounds rejuvenating. But then, I'm not going to be cooked up as somebody's supper.

Like the Seafood Market, What a Catch uses a hot-air oven to cook its fish. My swordfish arrives in two thin fillets rather than the thick steak I'd expected, but it's tasty and succulent. On the other hand, my accomplice's lobster-shrimp-salad sandwich is disappointing for its use of bay shrimp and lack of compelling flavor.

Fresh tuna salad is also not what I anticipate. With its mashed texture, it looks like a scoop of chopped liver. Though the description reads "stuffed avocado," the salad sits atop slices. And for a tuna traditionalist like myself, ingredients like chopped walnuts and gherkin pickles take some getting used to--it's an odd combination.

Still, for a meal served on white disposable plates, much care has gone into the garnishes. Our plates are colored with strips of leaf lettuce, wedges of lemon, slices of kiwi, strawberry, celery and carrot. The whole thing is very pretty, but then again, this is north Scottsdale. Our more substantial go-withs include yummy Charles Chips and average cole slaw.

Like its Ahwatukee counterpart, What a Catch offers affordable fresh fish in a casual retail-deli environment. It doesn't matter that the nearest ocean is four hours by car from Phoenix. This is seafood for the people: affordable, fresh and flown in daily.

Now, how about someone opening one somewhere between 32nd Street and 64th Street from Indian School to Lincoln? The Seafood Market and Restaurant, 4747 East Elliot, #23, Ahwatukee, 496-0066. Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; noon to 6 p.m., Sunday; 1318 West Southern, #11, Mesa, 890-0435. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday; noon to 8 p.m., Sunday.

What a Catch Seafood, 13842 North Scottsdale Road, #5, Scottsdale, 998-7797. Hours: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Sunday.

for seafood market

I'd weather a few sand dunes for fish this tender and honest.

The Seafood Market is one of the few places where you have nothing to lose by trying something new.

for what a catch

This is seafood for the people: affordable, fresh and flown in daily.

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