Below Expectations

Bluefin Seafood Bistro does not live up to its distinguished pedigree

If Tucson foodies could be polled on what their favorite restaurants are, I would bet that Kingfisher would make a lot of Top 10 lists. It's a damn fine restaurant that's one of my favorites. Thus, when word broke that the Kingfisher folks were opening Bluefin Seafood Bistro in Casas Adobes Plaza, I--along with quite a few others--was quite enthusiastic.

Well, after two visits to Bluefin, that enthusiasm has been squashed. With hit-and-miss food and mediocre service, Bluefin is a huge disappointment.

Garrett and I visited the restaurant for the first time on a recent Friday evening. Walking in to Bluefin, I was impressed. The restaurant's look is lovely; with two levels and patio dining, there are plenty of seating options. Live jazz gave the downstairs/bar area a wonderful vibe; that's where we sat. The marble-top tables and metal-sided bar gives the restaurant a touch of class, and the walls--a mix of brick and burnt orange--add a touch of color.

Given our menus upon being seated, we proceeded to wait. And wait. A server was nowhere to be found. About 10 minutes later, a young man walking by screeched to a halt and greeted us thusly: "Everything OK?" We informed him we were sans-server, and he apologized profusely, taking our drink order and saying the first round would be on the house. This was a nice make-good, and he'd prove to be a polite and competent server.

The food, however, was another story, ranging from good to downright dreadful. For appetizers, we ordered the smoked bluefish ($8) and the crab risotto cakes ($11). Garrett also ordered the panzanella salad ($6), and I countered with the ahi tuna and spinach salad ($9).

The appetizers were about as hit-and-miss as possible. The smoked bluefish was a big hit; the upscale sardine-like fish was impressive in and of itself, but when combined with the accompanying curry mustard and red onion jam, it was elevated to amazing. This mixture, I must admit, sounded odd when I saw it on the menu, but boy, did it work.

And then there was the miss: The crab risotto cakes were awful. First, there was almost no crab present, and what was there could not be tasted. What was left was basically risotto, a bit of spinach, a smidge of garlic, grease and salt--lots of salt, so much that I have to believe the kitchen made an error. The Tabasco aioli, while fine by itself, could not redeem the dish.

The salads were also a mixed bag. The panzanella salad--chopped romaine, tomato, cucumber and olives with sourdough croutons--was, in Garrett's estimation, "OK." The ahi salad, while benefiting from a tasty and creamy cider vinaigrette, was marred by the fact that the ahi tuna chunks were dry and way overcooked.

Our main courses were better, thankfully. Garrett got the baked scrod cod ($16), and I picked the Alaskan king crab legs, by the pound (market price; on this night, $30). My crab was delicious--it tasted fresh and hit the spot. Two sides came with it: plain steamed rice and some spaghetti squash that was undercooked. Garrett's baked scrod, along with cheese and a sourdough crust, came in its own little dish, with steamed rice and sautéed spinach. He said it tasted good, though it seemed overly greasy. He wondered why the fish, after being baked, had not been placed on top of the rice in order to absorb some of the grease.

To finish the meal, we shared the torta negra ($8), a "flourless chocolate torte, warm chocolate sauce (and) whipped cream," according to the menu. When it arrived and we dug in to the tasty dessert, we also noticed another taste: peanuts. Surprised, we asked our server about it, and after consulting with the kitchen, he returned and said that some peanut butter had been added. Considering how many people have peanut allergies, this fact most certainly should be on the menu.

We left the restaurant baffled. Considering all the gaffes, we were wondering if we'd just caught Bluefin on a bad night; after all, we'd never had such a flawed experience at Kingfisher. We returned for Sunday brunch about a week later to investigate.

This time, the restaurant was much quieter, and we sat upstairs, where wicker chairs and leather booth-benches mix with the look--jars with crystals and lemons sit on a table at the top of the stairs--to create a mellower, yet still-elegant atmosphere. The jazzy, big-band music in the background was a nice touch. One thing Bluefin has right is the design and décor; it's comfortable and welcoming.

But how about the food? On this visit, I decided to give the New England clam chowder a try ($6.50), along with the poached lobster "benedict" ($13). Garrett played it simple and ordered the goat cheese and fresh herb omelette ($8).

The soup was delivered right away, piping hot. The taste was pretty good, except bacon, not clams, was the dominant flavor. The soup also suffered from the fact that the chunks of potatoes were huge, more than a comfortable bite-size. With smaller potato pieces, less bacon and more clams, this would have been something.

The main courses were--forgive me for repeating myself--hit-and-miss. The hit this time? Garrett's omelette, which was fluffy and filled with the perfect amount of havarti cheese, goat cheese and herbs, in wonderful harmony. The miss? The "benedict," which was a lobster dish in name only. For $13, I didn't expect an entire tail or anything, but I did expect more than a few small strands and bits of lobster meat that I couldn't even taste, because the bearnaise sauce with roasted tomato was so strong. The sauce itself had potential--it was rich and packed with tomato flavor--but it didn't work with the dish. I am a huge eggs benedict fan, and I was disappointed.

The service this time was friendly, but lacking. Garrett ordered orange juice, and I ordered coffee; after the first cups were finished, I had to ask for more coffee. We were never offered refills or second servings.

This is not what I would expect from a restaurant in the same family as Kingfisher. Bluefin, while not terrible, on our two visits was a below-average restaurant--which is simply shocking.

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