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First impression: Bonefish Grill in Southlake

Posted 7:55am on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012

Bonefish Grill, which opened its first DFW location at the intersection of Southlake Boulevard and Carroll Avenue in Southlake this week, has its roots in St. Peterbsurg, Fla., where the first Bonefish launched in 2000.

It's now a chain with locations in nearly 30 states, and plans to expand further. The philosophy, paraphrased from the Bonefish website, is to have menu items that aren't too intimidating for timid eaters but also menu items that will appeal to the adventurous. The menu isn't limited to seafood, and features beef, pork and chicken dishes.

The Southlake Bonefish Grill (not to be confused with Rockfish Grill, which has a Southlake Town Square location that's not too far from Bonefish), opened Monday, and we visited Tuesday.

The first thing that hit us, before we even walked in the door, was '80s music broadcasting outside to the nearest parking spaces. This continued inside, with a more eclectic mix that ranged from early '70s to mid-'90s pop, played at a volume that didn't drown out conversation but did occasionally lead to such distractions as a conversation about the merits of the Carpenters' We've Only Just Begun. (Two thumbs up, by the way.)

Once we'd pulled the fish-shaped door handle and walked inside, we were seated quickly, escorted past several apparently available tables and booths to a booth that was right by a busy waiters' station -- so busy that we immediately began to feel crowded and asked to be moved.

That request was granted cheerfully, but the dining room's layout is such that you're likely to see a lot of hustle and bustle among the staff -- which was large this night, with busers, servers, trainers and managers all busily moving through the restaurant when they weren't stopping by the table with such a strong eagerness to please that I began to wonder if they might wash my car if I asked them to.

We first tried a signature appetizer, the Bang Bang Shrimp, a small mountain of (peeled, thankfully) shrimp in a spicy cream sauce. The shrimp was cooked to a delicate crunch, and although the spice in the sauce was a bit wimpy for my taste, we wound up polishing off the whole thing.

When I say "we," I mean "I" -- my wife is a vegetarian, and she's encountered barbecue joints that offer her more options than some seafood restaurants. But there were several non-meat dishes on the Bonefish menu, and manager John Morst stopped by to say that he will often have his staff make an off-the-menu, meat-free pasta dish for his non-meat-eating customers.

But she decided to go simple and order the Florida Cobb salad with the chicken removed. Sometimes when vegetarians order a meaty salad without the meat, they get what looks like a half portion, as if all the meat were scraped off the top and they're left with the greens.

The "Florida" part of the name is key, because this doesn't include such traditional Cobb salad ingredients as bacon and hard-boiled egg. It does include avocados, mangoes and Danish Blue cheese, all ingredients she enjoys, and the salad was a hit.

I had the Imperial Longfin Tilapia, which is baked and stuff with shrimp, scallops, crab meat and lemon caper butter. The first bite of the tilapia was a little too salty, but the rest was well-seasoned and tenderly cooked, but the stuffing is a little busy -- if I had to do it over again, I'd just order the tilapia, which is available in a straightforward grilled version without all the ingredients fighting with one another.

This is another place with a huge menu, including changing nightly specials and drinks (I can recommend the Irish coffee), and it merits exploring -- but it's also in an area with a lot of competition, with several restaurants in the aforementioned Southlake Town Square and a popular Coal Vines location just a couple of doors down.

Opening a new restaurant, even a chain location, is always a matter of swimming upstream, but this Bonefish looks like it has a future.

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