Bonefish Grill has been open in The Woodlands for a while now, but we sometimes give new eateries time to work out the new-place kinks, so we thought it was about time to head over and check them out. The classy interior and the chef-jacket clad servers gave us an overall feeling of being high class, and with high class interiors, you typically expect high class pricing. However, this was not the case at Bonefish, as the pricing seemed to be about average on the (limited item) menu.
Chef Ramsey would likely approve of the easy list of choices and perhaps even the decor, although we haven't seen him re-do any interior space to this degree. The hostess was pleasant and courteous, seating us quickly, but as it was quite chilly inside, we moved to a patio table. Overall, Terry was prompt, attentive, and friendly, which are always good things. But one interesting point he made as we perused the menu during our initial conversation, caused me a little concern in relation to how fresh the fish is at Bonefish. When I inquired about the Chilean Sea Bass, he responded with "It's checked every day and..." I had to stop him there. "What do you mean by 'checked every day'? Isn't seafood delivered fresh every day?" I asked. "Yes," he replied, "the seafood is delivered and checked every day." It may seem like a minor clarification, but the importance of this detail will become more apparent later.
The bread was warm and fresh, with a texture similar to Ciabatta. Unfortunately, it did not arrive until T-minus two minutes prior to our dinner plates. This was the first of several timing oddities we observed while we dined - though we all received bread at the same time, our dining neighbors actually got theirs a good ten minutes or more before their main entrees; while yet another neighbor table never received bread at all. An obvious explanation would be that was at that moment when fresh bread had become available from the kitchen, although it did not appear to be oven-fresh. Less obvious was why the kitchen apparently wouldn't have bread more readily available during typical dinner hour(s).
With the dinner menu having only five categories and 25 items (33 if you count each of the types of grilled fish separately) save for sides and desserts, the menu seems a bit underwhelming. But a small menu keeps expenses low, and can make life in the kitchen a little easier for all. But then, it helps if your kitchen staff knows what they are doing. Based on the rest of our meals, we aren't so sure that this kitchen staff does.She Said
Full disclosure: I love me a good crab cake. And one of the options on the menu is a Maryland crab cake dinner that has two crab cakes. But for just a few more dollars, an option that allows for a bit more variety on your plate is the Sirloin + Crab Cake dinner (6 oz "center cut" sirloin + Maryland style crab cake $19.90), then upgrade to filet mignon (add $6). Either way, the crab cake comes with red remoulade, and all entrées (except pasta), are served with a fresh seasonal vegetable (we had the current selection of zucchini in tomato sauce), plus your choice of one side item - I went with the garlic whipped potatoes. Because garlic.
Imagine if you will, the Filet Mignon. How thick is it? Inch and a half? Somewhere between two and three inches? Me, too! I think of a beautiful, thick cut of beef like this one. Come to think of it, I don't know if I've ever seen a filet mignon less than an inch thick. Have you? Good, so I'm not the only one then. So you can imagine my surprise when my meal was delivered with what appeared to be a rounded-off strip steak, no more than 3/4" thick. Adding to my surprise was our server stating that he was certain this was in fact, a filet mignon, because, "all the filets are that thin. I know, it surprises me, too," he said, confidently. Adding that sometimes they are a little thicker. I was 99.95% sure it was actually the sirloin. After cutting into the steak and finding it to be bordering on well done (I'd ordered medium rare, as one does with a filet) the plate was returned to the kitchen for replacement.
And then a curious thing happened. A nicely-dressed young woman appeared (who never introduced herself, incidentally), and was very apologetic as she delivered my replacement filet - ta-da! The kitchen sent out a lovely, nearly two inch thick, beautiful filet. Beautiful, that is, until I cut into it. Because as you can see below, it nearly uttered a final "moo" it was so rare. I could tell by the look on her face, and the way she asked me - no less than three times - if I was sure it was alright, she thought it was too rare. And to be honest, the center was a little under done. But while all this was going on with my meal, his meal was having it's own set of Snafus occurring, so I wasn't going to send this one back, only to have it come back, possibly re-grilled and now over-done. It's really disappointing when the two of you have to take turns watching each other eat while one or both of you await replacement plate(s) rather than enjoying a nice meal, together.
As for the crab cake, it was pretty good, though a bit on the small side - closer to an appetizer portion than a main dish. The crab tasted fresh, not canned, and definitely not fishy. The breadcrumbs were soft in the center with a toast-like crispy exterior, a pleasant effect of having been baked, as opposed to being fried. Personally, I prefer a baked crab cake, not only is it (usually) healthier, but you get a better flavor and texture from the crab. I think if anyone were considering the crab cake dinner as a meal, though it comes with two, may find themselves still hungry after having finished the entree. But, this could also be construed as having room for dessert. Also of note was the extreme saltiness of, well, everything, really. A good crab cake recipe shouldn't need any salt at all, as a nice blend of seasonings should definitely provide plenty of flavor. The same goes for the garlic whipped potatoes, and the zucchini in tomato sauce. But everything on my plate was extremely salty. To me, this shows a lack of either imagination or knowledge in the kitchen, relying too heavily on salt to add flavor to everything. Of course, based on our experience, I'm leaning more toward a lack of knowledge in the kitchen. One final observation: I know Bonefish is quite proud of their wood-burning grill, but any chef worth his toque will tell you the grill is no place for a filet mignon - a cut of beef that should be pan-seared and finished in the oven, or sautéed.
I ordered the Wood-Fired, Grilled Chilean Sea Bass a.k.a., the Patagonian toothfish* with a Steamed Vegetable Medley as the side ($27.30). The steamed vegetables tasted fresh and flavorful, and the zesty tomato sauce worked very well with the zucchini. The mango salsa was about average in taste and the fish... the fish wasn't at all what I expected. * The name "Chilean Sea bass" was invented by fish wholesaler, Lee Lantz in 1977. Lantz wanted a name that would make it attractive to the American market. Considering "Pacific sea bass" and "South American sea bass", he settled on "Chilean Sea bass." In 1994, the FDA accepted "Chilean Sea bass" as an "alternative market name" for Patagonian toothfish, and in 2013 for Antarctic toothfish.
My serving of Chilean Sea Bass was (although reportedly safe to eat) woefully under-cooked, arriving in a gelatinous, or oddly squishy state, similar to past unpleasant experiences I've had with scallops. When asked, our server said it was supposed to be like that, and tried to explain that it was 'buttery' along with some additional adjectives that only served to illustrate his lack of knowledge of the sea bass. He departed and subsequently, the same, well-dressed woman arrived to investigate further and possibly explain how the fish was indeed cooked properly; adding that she found that people either 'like it' or 'don't like it' going along with the premise that the fish was cooked properly. Sea bass, Chilean or otherwise when cooked, is an oil-rich fish that doesn't taste oily, and is noted for its large, thick flake and melt-in-your-mouth texture. She was happy and quick to offer me a replacement, suggesting the lobster tails, and I agreed.
The two lobster tails and steamed vegetables ($13.90) arrived promptly delivered by our well-dressed, smiling young woman, who made some small talk and then quickly disappeared. And here is where that previous quality check/fresh delivered concern from earlier comes into play. I don't recall seeing anything stating how fresh the lobster is or was supposed to be. Live lobster will respond to being cooked by curling it's tail and as you can see, these tails are quite flat. For those who don't know, lobsters are a decapod crustacean that live in saltwater. Like most crustaceans, they must be cooked shortly after they die as their meat rots quickly. As you can see, the meat was primarily white but did have some black spots (looks like black pepper) [see larger photos] both of these indicators lead me to believe that the tails I was served were not entirely fresh. When cooked properly, the meat should be white, opaque and firm to the touch. Mine was a dull white, quite firm to the touch, and easier to cut with a butter knife than a fork. The meat was not flaky or juicy, so simply stated, it was not properly prepared. The second tail was very salty, and when asked, our friendly young woman stated that Bonefish does not add salt to their foods and that it might have been because it lived in the ocean. Really?
After all of the back and forth with our meals, coupled with neither of us actually finishing them, we had plenty of room to take the manager up on her suggestion that we have dessert. For variety (and posterity!) we ordered the Key lime pie, and the Macadamia nut brownie. The Key lime pie could easily be re-named the Pucker lime pie, as that is what we did after taking a bite. Whether or not the limes were truly Keys or a standard variety, there was plenty of that tangy and tart lime flavor going on in that pie. It didn't hurt it either being nestled between a hand-pressed, roasted pecan and graham crust and a generous dollop of house-made whipped cream ($6.50).
The macadamia nut brownie is a flour-less brownie, served warm atop a raspberry sauce, along with vanilla ice cream, and sprinkled with macadamia nuts ($6.50). Though it looks very thick and rich in the photo, it was surprisingly light in consistency, and not overwhelmingly sweet. We found both desserts to be a pleasant finish to an otherwise disappointing meal.
We've said it before, and it still holds true today - It's a shame when the side items outshine the main entree(s). For all the mistakes and mishaps that happened during our visit to Bonefish Grill, we will say this: Every member of staff that we interacted with was very polite, smiling, and pleasant. Though we would have liked to have seen all of them possess a bit more knowledge of the foods they were serving, they can't be faulted for the mistakes happening behind the pass. Also to their credit, the faulty plates were removed, leaving us with a minimal bill - an unspoken apology that was neither asked for nor pointed out. Due to those facts, then, we have decided to not write off Bonefish Grill altogether, and plan on returning to give them at least one more try... It just might be some time before we do, while we wait for some further training or possible turnover to happen at Bonefish Grill, The Woodlands.
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