Diner: Swimming with the Fishes

Plaza 600 offers excellent seafood choices in the Backstage District

Five years ago, Plaza 600 was the first restaurant CityBeat reviewed. Then it was the first night-light to join the newly opened Aronoff Center. Now the block is crowded with many eating options for patrons of downtown's Backstage area, but none with a clear dedication to savories from the sea.

When this popular site changed its focus slightly to become Plaza 600 Seafood Grille about two months ago, it seemed an appropriate time to revisit the menu. Arriving at 7 p.m. just prior to the theater crowd's exit for Peter Pan, our foursome started at the bar, perusing an interesting and somewhat non-traditional wine list. We had time to take a few sips before we were escorted to our table. The theater audience left, and we were in the company of a new crowd of families, couples and professionals.

We were seduced by the appetizer options and ordered quickly. Tucked into the shells of the Stuffed Oysters ($9.95) was chopped crab with matchstick zucchini and carrots snuggled under a coating of melted smoked cheddar. A lovely marriage of texture and subtle contrasting flavors complimented the delectable oysters.

The most dynamic presentation was the Spiced Grilled Shrimp ($9.95). On a bed of fried beet linguine and chopped greens, the crisp fresh shrimp were a lively pink from the chili oil marinade, which imparted a sweet, sharp bite.

The Sushi Sampler ($7.95) included a California Roll, tuna, salmon and shrimp with the standard accouterments. Our sushi maven called it a nice assortment and well done. While all our appetizers received lip-licking nods of approval, the favorite was Steamed Mussels ($8.95). The luscious dawn-tinted buds in their dark shells floated in a pool of garlicky, saffron broth with artichokes and had a rich, smoky flavor that begged to be savored as much as the mussels.

Only two things flawed our starters. Ironically both had to do with the mussels. With such a large bowl of shells, one normally expects a bowl or plate for the empties, which was not made available. The delicious broth demands that a large loaf of bread should be a requirement. Our waiter seemed surprised when we requested bread, as he had only intended to bring it with our salads. But we eventually got it.

A long-standing favorite is the Plaza Salad ($4.50/$6.95). Field greens are tumbled with pistachios, goat cheese, caramelized onion and roasted red pepper vinaigrette. This particular night, the vinaigrette was bland, crying for a little spice, although the texture and presentation were both grand.

If you must, you can select from several pasta selections or pork, chicken or filet mignon. But we were there for the "coastal specialties" that ranged from walleye to lobster. The moist and buttery Chilean Sea Bass ($22.95), crisply seared and drizzled with a sun-dried tomato, basil and crab hollandaise was perched atop french-cut green beans and roasted corn. The Seared Yellow Fin Tuna ($19.95) was very thick, rubbed with pepper and herbs and topped with a balsamic redux. The fish was succulent, cooked to perfection and quite the preferred of the offerings. This impressive presentation was completed with French-cut beans and sautéed mushrooms. The meaty and full-flavored Gulf Grouper ($22.95) was enjoyable and nicely complimented with a tart sauce of tomatoes, olives and capers. One of the evening specials was a pound of Crab Legs ($32.95) surrounding a mountain of garlic mashed potatoes covered with roasted corn. The crab legs were split for easy access and were sweet and rich. Although fresh and crisp, green beans and roasted corn seemed to come with all entrees.

Desserts sounded too good to forsake, despite any New Year's resolutions others might have made. The Grand Marnier Soufflé ($5.95) was a memorable confection from top to bottom, starting with Grand Marnier cream, topped with slivers of dark chocolate, resting above an ice cream center and a rich orange base. The White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake ($5.00) was rich and dense with a thin dark chocolate bottom crust. I'm not a huge cheesecake fan, but the nice chocolate aftertaste caused me to think of cheesecake much more favorably. We didn't quite lick the plates, but we were seriously tempted.

Plaza's first chef is now down the street at the city's main red meat restaurant, so it seems appropriate for Plaza 600 Seafood Grille to corner the downtown fresh fish arena. I'm glad that this familiar eatery has new life swimming with the fish. ©

Plaza 600
Go: 600 Walnut St. Downtown
Call: 721-8600
Hours: Lunch: Monday—Friday 11:30 a.m.—2 p.m.; Dinner: Monday— Saturday 5—9:30 p.m. Brunch: Sunday 10 a.m.—2 p.m.
Prices: Expensive, with a few moderate options.
Payment: Major credit cards and cash.
Vegetarian Friendliness: Charlie the Tuna won't be comfortable here, but fish-eating vegetarians will be.

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