Wed 25 Mar 2009
When a restaurant’s menu focuses on unfussy foods like fish tacos, fresh guacamole and salads, the presence of a chef like David Scribner can be a cause for concern. If the chef is intent on showing what he’s capable of, the simplicity of the dishes can be overwhelmed and even ruined.
Fortunately, Surfside in Glover Park has no such problem. Scribner’s focus on refining, rather than reinventing, results in flavors that are big but balanced. And despite the wide range of influences that make appearances on the menu, Scribner seems to have things well in hand. Dishes come out tasting…right.
We arrived at Surfside for a meatless Friday night dinner, having heard good things about the fish tacos and the overall vibe. Walking in just after 8, we were greeted by a line of people waiting to order and a further crowd awaiting their food while watching for a table to open up. The line moved steadily, giving us just enough time to familiarize ourselves with the ordering protocols: grab an order form that corresponds with the item or items you want, and then check the appropriate boxes before handing it over to the cashier.
Sounds simple enough, right? It is…unless you decide to get creative and go for a make-your-own taco, burrito or salad. In each case, you need to grab a separate color-coded form to fill out your a la carte order. If everyone in your group decides to choose their own adventure, you could find yourself turning in a veritable rainbow of order slips.
Margaritas, guacamole, and some tasty fish tacos after the jump.
The chalkboard menus stared down at us from above the transom that separates the largely open kitchen from the customers. Their contents were almost overwhelming: five kinds of tacos, four quesadillas, four burritos – even three weekly specials! Each menu item is named after a beach or an island, from Cozumel to Fiji and all the way to exotic Martha’s Vineyard.
Elizabeth sought out the fish tacos (Maui), always made with the grilled fish of the day. In our case, that meant mahi mahi. I opted for the Martinique, a burrito stuffed with grilled shrimp, zucchini, guacamole and red beans and rice. And because it had come so highly recommended, we decided to split an order of the fresh-made guacamole with chips and salsa. While I ordered the food, Elizabeth slipped away to the small bar at the rear of the restaurant to order a pair of margaritas. She came back with a strawberry and an original, both of which went down smooth. My original, with its evenly applied salt rim, was bracingly sour.
As soon as I ordered, the guacamole platter was ready. Thankfully, so was a table. We made our way over with our drinks and our big plate of chips and dug in. The flavors in the guacamole were great, with that sweetness that comes from truly ripe avocados blending nicely with cilantro and the occasional bite of jalapeno. But there was one aspect of the guacamole that seemed just a bit off – the texture. Surfside adds extra virgin olive oil to their version, and it results in an understandably oily guac. Although it certainly has its share of admirers, we would have prefered the flavor without the unctuousness that came from the additional oil.
The rest of our meal was ready in short order, so I headed back up to the counter to collect our entrees. Elizabeth’s fish tacos looked great, overloaded with guacamole, shredded cabbage, and lime sour cream atop mahi mahi that was lightly seasoned and then grilled until firm (but not overly crisp). And the flavor? Bold and bright, with a good hit of acidity and a richness that complemented the meatiness of the mahi mahi. My burrito was filled to capacity with rice and beans, guacamole, grilled shrimp and more; I’m amazed that I managed to make it through without one of the halves exploding under the weight of its generous fillings. The shrimp were plump and juicy, and the same guacamole from earlier formed a perfect counterpart to the dry starchiness of all that rice and beans.
The decor at Surfside is decidedly laid-back, with a large mural of a beach scene decorating the wall that runs between the kitchen area up front and the bar seating area at the rear of the restaurant. A rooftop deck provides additional seating during the warmer months (though it was not open during our visit). Instead of a drop ceiling, Surfside goes for the more industrial look with exposed vents and pipes, but they have painted the equipment to pick up on some of the bolder colors in the design.
With the self-service approach to ordering, the emphasis on grilled fish and veggies, and the somewhat unfinished look to the interior, it’s easy to see why so many people enjoy high-quality fish for lunch and dinner at relatively low prices here.