The Bonefish Grill did not come to Western New York quietly. Anything but.
Long loved by Florida snowbirds who appreciate the chain's upscale ambience, its wide assortment of fresh fish, quirky sauces and equally quirky martinis, it was anticipated more eagerly than Santa. When the place finally did open adjacent to and part of the Boulevard Mall -- use the separate entrance -- the place was practically drowning in customers.
As far as decor goes, this is not your typical chain. The lighting is dim, the look is attractive, and the help is trained within an inch of its life -- they are, if anything, a little too solicitous.
Our server was very insistent about what we should order -- we were actually afraid to disappoint -- and then, when someone forgot to fire our crabcake order on time, a mistake to be sure, we thought they'd have to call in the United Nations.
Three apologies -- count 'em three, from three different people -- until finally the cakes appeared special delivery on the arms of an earnest young man. I swear he was on the verge of tears. It was all right guys, really.
The cakes arrived only about three minutes after the rest of the appetizers, after all. Why not just wait in the kitchen for the whole order and forget the mea culpa?
But I have to tell the truth about those appetizers: They were great. Bang Bang Shrimp, a pyramid of wild Gulf crustaceans all bound in a cream spice sauce ($8.50), was one of the most addictive first courses I've eaten this year.
And the errant crabcakes ($10.90) redeemed themselves. All lump crab filling, nary a hint of bread inside. The crabcakes had been so lightly breaded on the outside, the coating was practically nonexistent.
The salads were good here, too, especially the Bonefish House Salad, which contained pine nuts and hearts of palm (lots of hearts of palm). That salad was a triumph.
We had eaten so much already that we could have stopped there. In fact, we should have stopped there, because the rest of the meal was much more pedestrian (that's an odd word to use when talking about fish, but you get the idea).
The selection of grilled fish, all fresh and brought in daily, we were told, included Atlantic Salmon, Mahi Mahi, Sea Scallops, Shrimp, Swordfish, Ahi Tuna, Chilean Sea Bass and Lobster Tail, all cooked over a wood fire. The price goes up as the list goes on, but it generally ranges from $15 to $32.
We were pleased but hardly ecstatic with the Tilapia and the Tilefish (although to be fair, neither fish has ever been a particular favorite of ours), but we felt they both lacked oomph. I couldn't discern the ocean at all; actually, they were tasteless.
The Garlic Mashed Potatoes that came along were nice; the Steamed Vegetable Medley seemed to be, surprisingly, Spaghetti Squash -- something you don't find in a chain restaurant too often.
Even the sauces -- Lemon Butter, Lime Tomato Garlic, Warm Mango Salsa or Pan Asian (you can order 'em all if you like) -- didn't add much excitement.
As for the sauteed Pistachio Parmesan Crusted Rainbow Trout topped with artichokes ($17), there was too much going on. There's a reason why fish is seldom served with cheese. Focus, focus, focus.
And somebody also better ride herd on the Diablo Shrimp Fettucine, too. Tomatoes, capers, onions, green chiles, with wild gulf shrimp and spinach fettucine in seasoned white wine garlic cream sauce ($13.25). Admittedly, we didn't taste it, only read the menu, but it's too darn confusing.
No, non-seafood types will not go hungry here. Chicken Marsala, Lily's Chicken (chevre, wilted spinach, artichokes and lemon basil sauce), Pork Chops (topped with Fontina Cheese and a Mushroom Garlic Wine Sauce) are on the menu and can fill the void.
Thank goodness, reasonably unadorned filets or sirloin steak can also be ordered.
For dessert, Deep Dish Key Lime Pie ($5.70) is much helped along with the roasted pecans in the graham cracker crust. And the Chocolate Macadamia Nut Brownie Cake ($5.70) is overwhelming.
3 stars (Out of 4)
WHERE: 1247 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst (833-6106). This acclaimed, Florida-based chain has come to the Boulevard Mall (entrance from the outside only). It specializes in many kinds of fresh fish, although chicken and meat are also available. Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.
FAVORITE DISH: Bang Bang Shrimp, Crab Cakes
NEEDS WORK: Longfin Tilapia
PRICE RANGE: Grilled Fish with vegetable garnish and one side from $15.
SERVICE: Almost overwhelming.
NOISE LEVEL: High
HOURS: Every day from 4 p.m.; until 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; until 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and until 10 p.m. on Sunday. A limited number of reservations are accepted.
HEALTHY CHOICES: Grilled fish of many varieties.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.
PARKING: In the lot.
KID APPEAL: Kids menu available.