Bonefish Grill

(Grand Rapids, MI) With Juliet winging her way back from San Diego and arriving just before rush hour, we thought it wise to seek out an early dinner not too far from the airport. Why not make it a midweek adventure? A quick mental check of nearby restaurants returned Bonefish Grill, a chain with which we've had good luck before. Would the luck hold for one more dinner?

He Fed:
Despite it being Wednesday, the parking lot for Bonefish is packed shortly after 5pm. What the heck? Are there really that many people hungry for seafood on a weeknight? Sure, they might get some overflow from the nearby recently-closed Rock Fire Grille, but I am shocked (and thrilled) to see so many people dining out.

Our original plan was to grab a leisurely drink at the bar, then proceed with dinner. There are so many patrons clogging up the bar, though, that we decide to head straight into the dining room. Good thing, too. No sooner than we're shown to a table when more and more people arrive. It takes no time for the restaurant to fill up. Wow. I had no idea this location was so popular!

We start with a nice glass of Caposaldo "Brut" Prosecco from Veneto, Italy. It is dry and lovely, a nice beginning that whets my appetite for...seafood! On previous visits, I'd have to settle for pork chops or steak or chicken, but tonight I have a craving that only aquatic creatures can sate.

As luck would have it, every Wednesday is "Bang Wednesday": Bang Bang Shrimp for only $5. Now, those of you who know me (either through long, painful years of having the "pleasure" of my acquaintance, or the luckier few who just read this website enough to know my curious peccadilloes), know that I'm hot and cold on shrimp. I've had good ones that have opened my eyes to the possibilities...and I've had the rubbery, strong-tasting ones that turn me off for months at a time. I'm praying for the former tonight.

The appetizer arrives shortly, glistening orange fat curls nesting atop a bed of greens. We break out the chopsticks and I pop in the first bite. Shazam! Spices and red pepper coat the succulent shrimp, aided by a very light creamy sauce. The breading is not too thick or deep fried, but it's not quite tempura either. Likewise, the sauce isn't too sweet or cloying. Everything is perfectly balanced and ephemeral. I would be hard pressed to say I've had a better shrimp dish in any restaurant. (Of course, that excludes the gigantic tempura prawn prepared by Chef Michel Richard that I had the extreme pleasure to eat at a culinary event in 2009.)

Sadly, the shrimp disappears quickly. Time to move on. I am emboldened by our first choice, so I blaze ahead by choosing the Baja Fish Tacos. They are wood-grilled and spiced with cajun seasoning. Right up my alley! One thing I hate about tacos, though, is how messy they can be. It seems I always forget this little point. My first handful is dripping with juices from the mango salsa, so I have to eat quickly. Unfortunately, the fish is a bit too dry. The seasoning is nice and if you get a mouthful with all the components (salsa, lettuce, sour cream, and a spritz of lime), it works. The glass of La Crema Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, of course) is a surprising match, and just damn fun to drink.

No plans for dessert when we headed in, but one glance at the lineup convinces us we need to split a piece of the Jamaican Coconut pie. It is a large slice composed of almost entirely shredded, baked coconut with some eggy mixture on the base, topped with whipped cream and a rum sauce. Sweet, toasty, with a deep burnt flavor from the rum, it is one of the best endings to a meal that I've had in a while.

Way too full, we happily pay up and head out to find our car among the throng of vehicles. The next time we visit Bonefish Grill, it will almost certainly be a Wednesday, there will undoubtedly be two orders of Bang Bang Shrimp (and maybe no entree), and dessert will definitely be on the agenda.
She Fed:
Jeremy picks me up from the airport as I'm returning from a three day business trip. Our plan is to get to Bonefish Grill early, grab a drink or two in the bar, and then have dinner. Turns out their parking lot is packed and the bar is standing room only. We quickly decide to skip a pre-dinner drink and go right to a table while there are still a few available.

One of my favorite appetizers at Bonefish is the Bang Bang Shrimp and tonight is "Bang Wednesday", meaning the $8.50 app is specially priced at $5. I consider ordering two portions, dumping both on a side salad, and calling it the perfect dinner. Reality sets in, though, so we opt to split one order and enjoy with two glasses of Prosseco. I don't know what it is about saving three bucks, but clearly the promotion is a popular one. I watch more than a dozen orders of the shrimp being delivered to other tables.

The coating on the shrimp is very light and the sauce is spicy, slightly sweet, and a bit creamy. Food Network magazine ran a recipe last year with their "interpretation" of Bang Bang Shrimp. I recall it was essentially deep fried shrimp tossed in a mixture of Thai sweet sauce, sriracha, and mayo. Trust me, that description isn't doing it justice. The shrimp are delicious: crispy, lightly sweet, and highly addictive. Even Jeremy (the guy who hates seafood, remember?) is grooving on them.

Despite just spending three days on the West Coast in a port city surrounded by fresh fish and seafood, I have every intention of ordering some simply grilled fish. I'm pretty close to settling on either the tilapia with mango salsa or the salmon with lemon butter, when I see one of tonight's specials is "Giant Shrimp Pad Thai". I check with the server who says she just tried it for the first time this week and it's her new favorite dish on the menu. That's good enough for me.

Just before our entrees are delivered, our server brings three small dishes with condiments for my pad Thai. Going from mildest to hottest: a blend of "spicy salt"; chili oil; and red pepper flakes. I've only recently discovered Thai food, but I don't remember ever being served condiments for pad Thai before. I'm wondering if it's so bland it needs a little kick start or something?

True to its name, there are four huge tail-on shrimp perched perfectly atop a generous bowl of rice noodles intermingled with blobs of scrambled eggs, long strands of shredded carrots, chopped cilantro, and diced peanuts. Beautiful. I give the dish a big squeeze of lime and dig in. It's not bland, but it is a little too sweet so I drizzle some of the chili oil over the whole plate, mix it in well and give it a second try. Much, much better. The chili oil actually helps bring out the other flavors of the Pad Thai. Now I'm getting the full effect of all the ingredients—sweet from the carrots and peanutty sauce; sour from the lime juice and fish sauce; spicy heat from chili oil; and even a scootch of bitter from the cilantro. While it's not the absolute best pad Thai I ever had (not that I would expect that here), it is quite good.

I only eat about half of the bowl as I have my eye on the dessert menu. I saw the Jamaican rum coconut pie earlier and can't stop thinking about it. Jeremy and I agree to split a piece and it does not disappoint. The pie is slightly warm and sitting on a bed of sweet rum sauce. More like coconut macaroon than coconut pie, it's extremely dense and jam-packed with coconut. We devour it quickly and declare tonight's dinner a success.

By now, the restaurant is filled to capacity and there's a long wait line as we exit. With all the headlines about the struggling economy and several businesses nearby closing their doors, it is wonderful to see a Grand Rapids restaurant packed on a Wednesday night!

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