Since we were near Seattle shopping at the Premium Outlets, I made plans to meet up with Goose to celebrate his birthday. I let him choose the venue and he selected McGrath's Fish House in Alderwood Mall. I've passed by this place a few times while dining at Claim Jumper and grabbing some drinks at Jamba Juice. McGrath's is actually a chain of restaurants specializing in seafood, particularly fish (hence the name). Immediately, comparisons to Red Lobster came to mind. Other than the complimentary scones, there is not much to like about Red Lobster (small portions, expensive, food not very good). Again, with an open mind, Viv and I headed 25 minutes south on I-5 from Tulalip to Lynnwood. Goose had to make a reservation a couple hours prior since McGrath's doesn't take reservations the day before. To my dismay, we were seated in a dark area of the restaurant. They didn't have a table for 6 near a window. I am using this excuse for the poor pictures!
Since I was treating, I encouraged Goose and Mother Goose to order lots of food. In actuality, I just wanted to take more photos. Yes, I always have an ulterior motive. Although this time, it cost me! So we started off with 3 appetizers - Crab Cakes, Calamari and 1/2 Pound of Peel n Eat Shrimp. Have you ever looked at a menu and from the description of the food, envision something grand? Well, imagine my reaction when the food arrived. Thinking that I had ordered 3 really large appetizers, it turned out to be 3 really small appetizers. Granted that they weren't too expensive; but the portions were small, especially the calamari. Although the 2 crab cakes looked quite good being nicely browned and all, they were a bit stiff. Furthermore, I didn't get any sweetness of crab. The shrimp were pretty good, they were crisp and accompanied by enough cocktail sauce to drink. However, the calamari was just plain terrible. First, there wasn't much of it (which was probably a good thing). Second, it was glistening with oil. Third, it wasn't fried long enough (or the oil wasn't hot enough) because the squid was chewy and slimmed with uncooked batter. To add insult to injury, the dipping sauce was bland.
At this point I was quite concerned about the rest of our meals. However, the house sour dough bread kept my mind off of it because it was pretty darn good. All entrees come with a garden salad. For a little bit more, you can substitute it with a different salad or soup. I decided to replace my garden salad with the Pear, Candied Walnuts, Fried Yam Strings and Blue Cheese Salad instead. This sounded quite delicious in theory. However, when it arrived, I could barely identify anything underneath the yam strings. There was so much dressing, the greens became soggy. In theory, if they had not overdressed the salad, the crunchy sweet walnuts and crispy yams would've been a great compliment to the pungent blue cheese. Chalk this up to lack of execution. On the other hand, Viv's Seafood Stew (Soup) was pretty good. I guess they called it a stew because there was more ingredients than broth. The tomato broth exhibited nice depth with a touch of "good" fishiness flavour. Goose and Mrs. Goose had the Garden Salad and Coleslaw respectively.
I am normally not a big fan of Tilapia since I find it a bit mushy; but I ordered it because of the lime butter. It's really too bad I didn't taste any lime; I did taste a lot of butter though (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Soft and not too mushy, the fish was actually cooked properly. The same could be said for the green beans and red potatoes. Strangely, there was tartar sauce served on the side. I wasn't sure what the purpose of it was since the fish was already seasoned and not fried. For me, it almost cheapened the dish. Well, then you can give me heck for using it on my potatoes (not sure why I did that). Anyways, I guess the only real complaint for this dish was the absence of lime flavour. Viv chose the Hazelnut Sole with came with a lemon dill sauce. Again, the fish was cooked properly and tasted quite pleasant. I would've like the hazelnut coating to be a bit more crispy; but it was not really a big deal. Furthermore, I did not detect much lemon flavour at all in the sauce, when we squeezed copious amounts of lemon juice on the fish, the flavours seemed to come alive. Not sure if that was the intention; but it sure seems like they shouldn't put "lime" or "lemon" in the description if the flavour is so weak.
Since it was we were celebrating Goose's birthday, I encouraged him to order something good. There was a Live Whole Lobster for $30.00 and King Crab Legs for the same price. In the end, he opted for Sirloin Steak with King Crab Legs. Honestly, it didn't look like a lot of food for $30.00; but Goose seemed to be satisfied with it. He was especially happy with the crab since there was quite a lot of meat packed into the 2 legs. Mother Goose had the Mixed Grill which consisted of a Crab Cake, Prawn Skewers and Wood Fired Salmon. She was really pleased with the perfectly grilled and seasoned salmon. Taking a quick peek, it was indeed flaky and moist.
I really have mixed feelings about McGrath's Fish House. It really has nothing to do with the fact it is a chain restaurant either. The service was predictably friendly and attentive (that's what most people are looking for in a chain restaurant - predictability). On one hand, we had some really average appetizers in terms of size and execution. On the other, we have perfectly cooked fish, albeit lacking in some aspects in terms of flavour. In retrospect, the prices at McGrath's aren't exactly unreasonable for this type of food. However, none of the food made me go "wow" or I really need to eat this again. So, in the end it was difficult to decide whether I liked it or not. When I have this dilemma, I always ask myself whether I return to a restaurant or not. In this case, the answer is not.
- Service was very friendly
- Prices were reasonable
- Fish was done properly
- Flavours need a bit of work
- Appetizers were small and not very good
- For the price, you can go to a better independent seafood restaurant