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Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010

A Seafood Delight at Mona’s Fish Market & Restaurant

Turkish touches add to Layton Avenue dining experience

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About a decade ago I visited a small neighborhood in Istanbul, Turkey, where all of the restaurants specialized in seafood. At every doorway there was an assortment of whole fresh fish sold by the kilogram, and the fish would be prepared any way you chose. That type of dining experience has arrived in Milwaukee at the recently opened Mona’s Fish Market & Restaurant, located near the airport.

The name will be familiar to East Siders, as the owners of Mona’s Fish are the same ones who run Mona’s Shawarma House, a small Turkish restaurant. But Mona’s Fish Market is much larger and far more ambitious.

It is difficult to disguise the fact that the building is a former Ponderosa Steakhouse, but the furnishings have been updated and some of the seating is in a traditional Turkish style, complete with big stuffed pillows and ornamental metal tabletops.

Every item is on ice in the seafood display, which offers a selection of the day. Among everyday items probably will be PEI mussels, littleneck clams, oysters and lobsters. A few visits have found finfish such as loup de mer, pompano, fluke, Dover sole, blackfish and red snapper—a distinguished selection, although a few tilapia sneak in as well. The restaurant is a functioning fish market. Servers will be able to quote the price per pound.

Diners will receive a menu featuring additional types of seafood and a few meat dishes. But the real reason for visiting Mona’s is for the whole fish (these items will be in the $10-$30 range).

At one visit my choice was fluke ($14.95). The price seemed like a bargain—and it was. It is now $24.95. Fluke, a type of flounder, is white-fleshed with a delicate flavor. Just order it grilled. The flavor is so fine that it is unnecessary to order one of the offered sauces.

Another visit found a new fish, hog-nosed snapper ($26.95). It also was ordered grilled, but there were a few Turkish touches as well. The fish was stuffed with lemon slices, chopped fresh herbs and some garlic—just the right amount so as not to overpower the delicate fish.

The fish are served with bones and all; the fluke especially is easy to navigate. Prices include a choice of two side items plus pita bread. The bread, which is baked here, arrives puffed out, much like a New Mexican sopapilla. This excellent bread is served with some dipping sauces (the selection may vary). The hummos is quite good, as is the herbed tahini. Sides include some fine garlicky Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and delicious Mediterranean basmati rice prepared as a simple pilaf. The steamed carrots need some help, but the asparagus is very fresh.

The above-mentioned fish are at the top end of prices at Mona’s. Meat options include a flatiron steak ($14.95). There also are five combination platters ($11.95). One has slices of blackened chicken breast along with grilled jumbo shrimp—a very good value. Another good value is found in the Prince Edward Island mussels. They arrive with garlic butter, and a pound of them steamed is just $8.

Another option is to order an appetizer with a side item. A small plate of smelt fried in a light batter is just $5.95, and a side of asparagus is $3.50. Since Mona’s is new, the menu is in a state of flux. Lunch needs to be more affordable. But those in search of noteworthy fish, especially varieties that are hard to find locally, will find Mona’s to be a treasure. The home chef will find it to be an excellent resource as well. Turkish-style fish is a fine addition to Milwaukee’s dining landscape

Mona’s Fish Market & Restaurant

204 W. Layton Ave.

(414) 486-1000

$$-$$$

Credit Cards: All Major

Handicap Access: Yes