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Our server steered us away from the chops ("We don't hear raves," he explained) and gave us a brief speech about the four sauce choices and five sides available with grilled fish dishes. He also put in a big plug for the Bang Bang shrimp. I looked around the room and noticed that practically every table had ordered the appetizer. Even before Bonefish Grill opened, the restaurant's publicist had called me to praise the virtues of Bang Bang shrimp. So bang me, I thought.
This ersatz "Oriental" dish (well, it comes with chopsticks) is a jumble of exceptionally crispy fried shrimp glazed with a creamy sauce that's slightly fiery and has an undertone of Dijon mustard. We all liked it well enough but didn't bang the table over the last bite.
The Bonefish house salad was a pleasant surprise: chopped greens scattered with crunchy pine nuts, kalamata olives and a sliver of heart of palm and splashed with a tart citrus vinaigrette. The corn chowder, generously laden with lump crab, had enough red pepper flakes to pack just the right punch.
Carol Jean's succulent salmon was superb, and Taylor raved over his grilled swordfish and the little amber scoop of spaghetti squash that came with it. "I'd come back just for the squash," he said. I ordered that night's special, a meaty slab of grilled butterfish accompanied by little cups of all four of the featured Bonefish sauces (lemon butter, lime-tomato garlic, warm mango salsa and an Asian teriyaki number) because I couldn't decide on one. The dish is not usually served with all the sauces, but I was a pushy little blowfish that night.
I never saw Jim take the first bite of his pistachio-parmesan-crusted rainbow trout, but the next time I looked his way, his plate was empty and he was asking about dessert.
There were only three dessert choices, but neither Jim nor Taylor would share the warm chocolate-macadamia-nut brownie with ice cream, so, like an indulgent parent, I let them each have one. Carol Jean and I shared the untarty deep-dish Key-lime pie, which was too big for us to finish. "It was that Bang Bang shrimp," whispered Carol Jean, as if we had ruined our appetites eating something vulgar.
A few nights later, I went back with my friend Bob, who rolled his eyes at the idea of a corporate-owned casual seafood joint. "It sounds stupid, and what's that name mean, anyway?"
The name comes from the favorite sport fish caught by the restaurant's co-founders, I explained. Luckily, Bob's cynicism dropped at the restaurant's entrance. "This place is gorgeous," he said, admiring details that I had missed on my first visit: the crisply starched jackets worn by the servers, the soft and unobtrusive jazz music, the cruet of good olive oil on the table. He watched approvingly as our waiter mixed a splash of olive oil with fresh pesto, bits of chopped olives and pepper flakes for a bread dipping sauce.