As dining reviewers, we are very conscientious of the growing pains that new restaurants have and often give new spots a second chance to be fair. My first experience at The Painted Fish was not as good as I had hoped, so I decided to give it an opportunity to prove me wrong. However, after two visits, the same issue reared its head. There’s a disconnect between the menu descriptions and the product delivered to the table. Something is lost in translation.
On the first visit, we ordered Crab Rangoon ($6.95) and the White Hot Shrimp Specialty Roll ($12.95), a shrimp, tempura, cream cheese roll topped with spicy mayo and vegetables. In the game of “last meals,” my dinner date would choose chicken wings, so we had to have the Korean Style Chicken Wings ($7.95). On the second visit, we started with the Seared Ahi-Tuna Tataki ($11.95), described as a mildly spiced, lightly seared tuna sashimi.
The Crab Rangoon was as described, with perfectly deep-fried envelopes filled with a balance of cream cheese and flavorful, fresh crabmeat. The White Hot Shrimp and Korean Style Chicken Wings arrived next and … holy tempura, Batman! Unfortunately, the menu did not mention that the wings are fried in tempura batter. The splash of sweet and sour sauce drizzled on the wings did little to balance out the heavy batter.
The Seared Ahi-Tuna Tataki was unrecognizable when delivered. I imagined, and rightly so according to the description, that the tuna would be rare and simply seared. The tuna came out as thin slices of tuna fried in panko bread crumbs and barely pink. I asked the server about the panko, and he stated that he, too, would have imagined it to be seared, as the menu described.
I was excited to see Bibimbop ($10.95) as an entrée. It’s a delicious Korean dish of rice, beautifully arranged vegetables and the protein of your choice (mine was tofu) topped with an over-easy egg and served in a hot stone bowl so the outer edge of the rice develops a delicious crust. As I mixed my Bimimbop dish with the accompanying hot sauce, I noticed that while the bowl was hot, the rice had no crunch whatsoever and was actually a bit gummy.
I was stirring away, but could not take my eyes off my date’s dish. Our server recommended the Sweet & Sour Wasabi Crusted Chicken ($12.95). He described a lightly crisped chicken with a light coating of brown sugar and wasabi served with sweet and sour sauce. Instead, a heavily breaded chicken breast was cut into strips beside a hash of spicy sweet potatoes with several large spears of steamed broccoli on the side. The dish looked like a meal you’d be served at an out-of-town conference.
On the second trip, we chose Japanese Chirashi ($13.95), an assortment of slices of sashimi served on a bed of rice, the Emerald Shrimp ($13.95), shrimp tossed in a spinach puree and served over rice, and the Surf and Turf ($14.95). The Chirahsi was served in a traditional Japanese lidded dish and the sashimi was fresh. The Emerald Shrimp was also good, but would have benefited from a little spice, as the pureed spinach sauce was a bit bland. The Surf and Turf, a seared, flat ribeye with seared five-spice scallops, was the best dish of both visits — the scallops were tender and delicious, and the ribeye was cooked perfectly medium rare and was a good cut of meat.
I like nothing more than falling in love with a meal or restaurant and writing a shining review, but there seems to be a disconnect at The Painted Fish. The menu sounds delicious, but the final product, more often than not, did not accurately reflect it. A great soundtrack and appetizing cuisine descriptions only gets a restaurant so far. You have a lot of competition, Painted Fish, and Northside needs you. You’ve got two out of three, but that only works in a Meatloaf song.
Go: 3937 Spring Grove Ave., Northside
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5 p.m.- 11 p.m. (Lunch served Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.)
Red Meat Alternatives: Sushi, tofu dishes
Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible