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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New Kid on the Block

Seafood chain at Mayfair

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Just when it seemed like the market for high-end steak and seafood restaurants was saturated, yet another one opens up. However, the new kid on the block, McCormick & Schmick’s, is poised to do very well with a prime site at Mayfair Mall. The chain has its roots in Portland, Ore., and now operates in more than 50 locations throughout the United States.

This is its first site in Wisconsin, but I have visited a few of the others over the years. Highlights included some excellent oysters in Seattle and wild Alaskan Copper River salmon topped with morels in Beverly Hills, Calif. The new restaurant stands apart from Mayfair Mall, just a short distance from Macy’s.

The upscale look boasts woodwork and grayish-green carpeting. The main dining room and bar are in a domed room with a stained-glass ceiling; the state seal of Wisconsin crowns the dome. Other local touches include a fine collection of reproductions of historic views from the Milwaukee area. The menu, with an emphasis on seafood and a handful of steaks, is in a constant state of flux and is printed twice a day. You’ll find the fresh seafood selections of the day at the head of the menu. Do try the oysters; usually there are a half-dozen varieties, with a few from Washington. Even though they tend to be smaller, I find these oysters superior to those from the East Coast. They may be ordered as a sampler of six ($12.95) and are served over shaved ice with lemon wedges, cocktail sauce and a variant of mignonette sauce that blends minced shallots with cider vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. This is a bit too tart for my tastes, but then again I never put anything on oysters of this quality.

All of the seafood items have the point of origin identified— mainly the United States and Canada. The preparations also tend to be traditional and American. The Maryland-style crab cake ($12.95) is a no-nonsense thick and meaty cake with no evidence of starchy binder. It is served with a good homemade tartar sauce, not some whimsical aioli. The Maryland crab soup ($3.95-4.95) is also on sound footing. The broth has assorted garden vegetables and has been fortified with Old Bay seasoning, which adds a bold dash of spice.

A dollop of crab meat tops the dish—a good portion for this modest price. It may seem a disappointment to find catfish, tilapia and Atlantic salmon—all products of aquaculture—on this menu, but the kitchen treats even the humble selections with respect. The catfish ($17.95) is a filet that is simply blackened and then topped with thin fried onion rings. It is served over sweet potato hash, diced potatoes with bits of crumbled sausage and the occasional leafy green—a Southern preparation with a bit of style.

It has been a long time since I ordered swordfish. The swordfish here comes from South Carolina, where there are restrictions on over-fishing. The serving ($22.95) is a grilled steak, firm and succulent, topped with sliced mushrooms and pan-roasted with just a hint of wine.

Again the sides show as much care as the entre: buttery mashed potatoes and sliced carrot. A few stalks of broccoli rabe are cooked to the perfect point of crispiness. In addition to the tasty slices of sourdough bread, you may want to start with a salad. The bacon and blue chop salad ($5.95) is a plate of chopped lettuce, tomato, onion, bits of bacon and finely crumbled blue cheese with a few green olives and a light vinaigrette. A house salad of field greens is available at lunch, but it’s dressed in too much balsamic vinegar.

Though the lunch menu is smaller, the prices are also lower, especially for the entrees. The wine list includes pricey chardonnays and somewhat better value in the champagnes and sparkling wines. As this is a new restaurant, you can expect the occasional service lapse, but the youthful staff is congenial and will make your visit a pleasant one. McCormick & Schmick’s is definitely the very best seafood chain of this scale.

MCCORMICK & SCHMICK’S
2550 N. Mayfair Road (414) 475-0700 $$$-$$$$ Credit Cards: All major Smoke Free Handicap Access: Yes

Photos by Tate Bunker