When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Crab & Mermaid Fish Shop
Location: 4218 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Open: Less than a month
The stylish seafood parlor has lately become a staple of the metro Phoenix food scene, the kind of restaurant where the bright and breezy, nautically-themed decor is almost as much of a draw as the ocean-scented littleneck clams and oysters melting into your palate.
Add Crab & Mermaid Fish Shop to the expanding roster of trendy Valley seafood spots. The shiny, Old Town Scottsdale restaurant and bar comes to us from Square One Concepts, the folks behind crowd-pleasing concepts like Cold Beer & Cheeseburgers, Wasted Grain, and the upcoming Bourbon & Bones Chophouse, which is slated to open in Scottsdale this summer. The group recruited top talent for this latest concept, including high-pedigree chef Isaac Carter and mixologist Richie Moe (formerly of Citizen Public House) to handle the bar's cocktail menu.
After a period of mounting anticipation, Crab & Mermaid is now officially open, and judging from the brisk crowds at a recent lunch service, Scottsdale diners seem to be happily trickling in. It doesn't hurt that the restaurant is served well by its choice location, squeezed into a corner spot right next door to its sister restaurant, Cold Beer & Cheeseburgers, near Fifth Avenue and Scottsdale Road. Plus, there's the appeal of its lively wraparound patio, which transitions smoothly into the restaurant's sunny dining room, replete with nautical accents like fishing nets suspended from the ceilings, and a sleek raw bar with marine-blue bar stools.
Service is friendly and upbeat, and the restaurant's opening menu offers a kind of greatest hits collection of regional seafood dishes. Starters include classic appetizers like bacon-wrapped shrimp, crab cakes, and popcorn shrimp. An order of Inner Harbor crab cakes yields two small cakes, subtly seasoned and tasty, if modestly portioned, made from Maryland crab and given a pleasing lift with Worcestershire sauce. Buffalo popcorn shrimp, which approximate the same neon orange color of Cheetos, proved less appetizing during a recent visit. The spicy, vinegary Buffalo sauce completely overpowered the shrimp; you may find yourself draining your water glass to get through a couple mouthfuls of this aggressively seasoned starter.
There is a raw bar menu, with selections including fresh oysters and ceviche, and entrees organized according to region, with East Coast, Gulf Coast, and West Coast dishes allotted more or less equal amounts of real estate. From the East Coast menu, there's a classic New England lobster roll, which you can order hot or cold, spicy or plain. Your server will likely recommend it hot and spicy, which is how we requested it on a recent visit. The roll, toasted and buttery, comes generously stuffed with moist hunks of nicely cooked lobster bathed in a bright yet subtle lemon aioli. The "spicy" part of the dish failed to register, though. Your roll comes with coleslaw and potato chips, both fine but unremarkable.
From the West Coast side of the menu, you'll find beer-battered fish tacos, made with the catch of the day and piled amply with cabbage slaw and a nicely tart mustard crema, plus the requisite salsa verde and fresh pico. Your two tacos come with a side of slightly limp cilantro-lime rice, which registers a bit like an afterthought designed to fill out the plate. It's a crispy, credible fish taco, carrying a well-balanced load of toppings, although the catch of the day gets a little lost in the muddle. And at $14 for the dish, it doesn't take serious analysis to figure out you're paying roughly $7 a piece for tacos, which feels a bit too high.
A better lunch option is the house Po' Boy sandwich, which you'll find — where else? — on the Gulf Coast side of the menu. Toasted French bread is split and layered with lettuce, tomato, bacon, and pickles, then crammed with cornmeal-breaded fried oysters. The sandwich was a bit on the dry side during our visit, but the handful of fried oysters, plus a squirt of hot sauce, imbued the sandwich with a rich, snappy buttery appeal, the crusty mollusks exploding with flavor and fragrance.
For dessert, the kitchen offers a bananas Foster trifle and something called the "giant rice crispy dessert," which might be the most straightforward menu description in recent recorded history. Indeed, the dessert is a giant rice crispy, the sticky, crusty treat cut into three hefty, triangle-shaped portions, and drizzled with caramel sauce. It's large enough to share with a small group. If you've ever had a rice crispy treat, well then you know precisely what to expect.
It's worth noting that Crab & Mermaid will be adding new items to the menu in coming weeks, including an "Off the Dock" option that will let diners select a fish and then customize their meal with different types of sauces and preparation styles. Hopefully, these additions will add more life to the menu.