I truly admire the concept of a restaurant dedicated strictly to seafood. Most fish-friendly eateries serve the cursory chicken patty or burger, but at Monarch Fisheries, no turf is offered with the surf.
Unfortunately, admiration didn’t blossom into love because during my visits to this casual Coeur d’Alene eatery, I found the seasoning much too timid and twice was served meals I hadn’t ordered. The same type of mix-up two times in one week - imagine the odds.
To the credit of the servers, they were apologetic and prompt about fixing the mistakes. And during dinner, I wasn’t charged for an entree that arrived with the wrong sauce.
That was one of the things I liked about Monarch Fisheries. I got the impression the people working there were trying hard, but were just missing the mark.
The venture was conceived by Floyd Hutchens, a retired commercial fisherman, who takes great pride in securing the freshest catches from Alaska, Hawaii and other parts of the world. (There’s also a small market on the premises.) I was impressed with the quality of the fish, even as I was finding fault with some of the preparations.
The dining room at this former barbecue joint is small, with seating for about 40, and the atmosphere is a cut above your average fast-food place. Diners can sit at either high tables with bar stools, knotty pine booths or eat outside on patio furniture.
The upscale dinner menu changes weekly, depending on what seafood is available. Last week, some of the more offbeat selections included snapper from Thailand and grouper, a firm white fish from the sea bass family that is most often sold on the East Coast. On paper, the dishes certainly sounded inventive, ranging from coho salmon with an onion and pineapple salsa to grilled ahi tuna topped with a mango chutney.
And our dinner started with great promise. The sashimi appetizer ($6.95) was as good a raw tuna as I’ve had this far away from the ocean. It was served with the traditional soy and wasabi dipping sauce and a generous pile of pickled ginger.
I also liked the “un-traditional” Caesar ($3.75), a big bowl of romaine coated with a mayonnaise dressing (as opposed to the classic lemon and olive oil). Crispy bits of salmon skin were a pleasant substitute for anchovies and added a nice crunch.
For my entree, I ordered the seared Thai snapper ($14.95), expecting a slightly spicy dish. When it was served, I noticed an overpowering vinegar flavor and the fish was topped with oyster mushrooms, not roasted red peppers as described on the menu. Oops. The kitchen had goofed, topping it with the sauce intended for grilled mahi mahi.
While I was waiting for the new version of my dinner to arrive, I sampled my companions’ sauteed shrimp ($14.95). The pink shellfish looked plump and pretty against the pale green sorrel pesto sauce, but they were undercooked and rubbery. The velvety sauce, made with sorrel grown in the herb garden that decoratively borders the outdoor seating area, was subtle to the point of needing salt.
My snapper showed up, properly cooked, but bland. According to the menu, it was sauced with a mixture of coconut milk and lemongrass, though I didn’t taste either in the creamy sauce.
Perhaps the tentative use of seasoning is in response to customer demand. If that’s the case, maybe the restaurant could institute a star system similar to Asian eateries so diners could specify the degree of seasoning that suited particular tastes.
While the main dishes were lacking in flavor, the accompanying veggies were vividly fresh. The plate was filled with crunchy wax beans, spaghetti squash and roasted red potatoes. Wedges of beets added a nice visual element.
Another plus at Monarch Fisheries was the short, but well-chosen wine list. I enjoyed a well-priced ($4) glass of Waterbrook sauvignon blanc and, with my fish, a glass of Latah Creek Johannisberg riesling ($2.75). Good full bottle selections included Woodward Canyon chardonnay and Canoe Ridge merlot, a wine that’s getting critical raves in national publications.
Back for lunch, a friend ordered one of the daily specials, a grilled sea bass with chili butter. The fish was fresh and fine, but the butter could have used an additional blast of chili.
I started with the daily seafood soup special, a crab bisque, followed by an order of crab cakes. The bisque was a bust, watery and virtually devoid of crab bits. When I gave up after a couple of spoonfuls, our waitress asked if there was something wrong. I told her it tasted bland. “I thought it was bland, too,” she said, adding that she wasn’t going to charge me.
That’s nice, but if she thought it was innocuous, why didn’t she suggest something else when I ordered?
Later, the poor woman was visibly vexed after she delivered a plate of halibut and chips and I reminded her that I had ordered the crab cakes. By this point, we felt like we were hounding her when we asked for silverware and for a refill on drinks.
Alas, the crab cakes weren’t worth the wait. Surrounded by lots of breading, I could see the slender threads of crab, but I couldn’t taste them.
The best dish I sampled at lunch were the fish tacos ($4.95), crispy corn tortillas filled with lots of sauteed, mildly seasoned albacore tuna and a corn salsa. It was served with a mound of shredded cabbage and rice.
Even though I had a couple of disappointing experiences, I was still upbeat about the good things at Monarch Fisheries. The stellar side dishes and the quality of the fish gave me hope that, with a few improvements, this restaurant could become a contender.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Monarch Fisheries Address: 445 Cherry Lane, Coeur d’Alene, (208) 765-6744 Meals: seafood Prices: lunch, $4.95-$8.95; dinner, $14.95-$16.95 Days/hours: Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Tues.-Sat. 5:30-9 p.m. Alcohol: beer and wine Smoking: non-smoking Reservations: yes Credit cards: D, MC, V Personal checks: yes