Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fish Crazy -Naples' To Go Spot for Delicious Seafood!


Fish Crazy is my "to go " place for delicious seafood of all types, often paired with Oakes Farms fresh produce!  I've eaten there three times in the last few months, and I'll be there again, for one excellent reason-Executive Chef Hector Hidalgo. I follow chefs the way baseball fanatics follow players, and few athletes have batting averages as high has he does. His healthy seafood is so fresh and delicious.
Fish Crazy's has an overall  funky-casual relaxed Key West  ambiance.
 It offers "fine dining" quality seafood with larger portions, and without the high prices or stuffiness. Its  layout has something for everyone, with different areas. It has a full bar (a popular meeting spot),
 a dining room with a Caribbean flair, side dining room,  a fish market, 
an enclosed wine room that's perfect for a group of six or so, and a larger chef's table room that opens onto the bustling kitchen.
 There's a few nautical motifs, calming pastel-painted walls, and little bric-a-brac to distract you from the main attraction-Chef Hector's deliciously prepared seafood. Well... unless you count the bocce court, however if I didn't tell you, you'd probably never know about its existence.
I often make a meal by sharing mostly appetizers and just a few main courses with 4-6 friends at a table. My  ideal dining is to graze, or dine tapas-style, sampling  variety of dishes at a sitting.  Start with some of my favorite apps.  Firecracker shrimp ($9) offers a touch of heat without fire. Fresh Gulf shrimp are lightly dusted with rice flour, fried, and tossed with a hint of sriracha in the sauce.
A squeeze of the cheesecloth covered lemon, and you're set! Some compare this to the bang bang shrimp dish at Bonefish Grill-this has them beat.  Why rice flour? It makes the dish gluten free. Chef Hector has already anticipated those with gluten sensitivity, and has completely replaced wheat flour with rice flour. Outside of the improvement, you'll not notice. Highly Recommended. 

Coconut shrimp ($12) (NOT the full order pictured below) are a delight at Fish Crazy, whereas at other places they are reheated frozen finger food, with more breading than meat.  Fish Crazy is light on the rice flour breading, generous with the shredded coconut, and the shrimp are fresh and of good size. The citrus marmalade dipping sauce is a keeper, with candied orange peel and a good touch of heat. Recommended!
Smoked fish dip ($9) is a medley of white fish served with crackers. You may want to buy a pound of this to take home later!

Seafood gumbo ($8/6  bowl/cup) is full of fish and flavor-pretty close to what some would expect in New Orleans, just not as peppery hot. That's a good thing for non-Cajun palates. It's a combination of fresh seafood, Andouille sausage, okra, celery, bell peppers, onions and tomatoes, simmered with Cajun seasoning and topped with rice and  a chunk of baguette.

More New England style for you? The Florida clam chowder is just as creamy, with lots of clams, bits of potato and light seasoning. ($7/5 bowl/cup)

Keep your eyes open for other daily specials that pop up, especially the amazing crab dip with Brie, Montego and Gouda cheeses, or the ambrosia-like conch and clam chowder.

Ok, time for my favorite main courses.
Miso-glazed sea bass tops the list!  this generous portion of tender sea bass with Napa cabbage and a crisp seaweed slaw ($32) beats my prior favorite- miso Chilean sea bass at USS Nemo's by a hair, er, fin! You may find yourself I scooping up every drop of the miso sauce. Highly Recommended. 
Shrimp & grits ($15) , Chef Hector's style, features sautéed Gulf shrimp, hearty chunks of chorizo, mushrooms and scallions, served atop whipped goat cheese grits. Delicious! These are the authentic grits that take 45" to make, not the "5 minute" watery grits you'll find elsewhere. Recommended.
New England sea scallops ($28) are a must have, either the standard way with asparagus and roasted oyster mushrooms in a light Grand Marnier sauce, or the special-with just sprouted quinoa and baby arugula citrus dressing and  brown-black olives-I'll take your olives if you don't want them!  Hector knows how to sear your scallops, with a touch of rice flour to keep it gluten free.
You can't go wrong with Norwegian Salmon ($25), pan-roasted with bok choy and shiitake mushrooms  The salmon arrives tender, with a crisp crust and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Recommended.
Hogfish is a local delight that's not commonly seen in restaurants. Same goes for tripletail, pompano and others from  Florida waters. Hector's hogfish also comes with your choice of fried, sautéed or blackened. Go for it-the blackened style isn't too spicy!
One special that I hope goes on the regular menu is the "Caribbean cioppino", with a lobster tail, shrimp large scallops, and fish with crisp banboo shoots, red pepper strips, and a wonderful  ginger-laced  coconut cream base, with jasmine rice. The seafood was properly cooked and oh-so tender. The portion was so large I took part of it home!  Highly Recommended!
Save room for desserts. There are regulars, like Randy's nationally renowned Key lime pie, Hector's various rich flans, and special cakes and pies.

Some history for you. Randy Essig and his business partner Tony created Randy's Fishmarket perhaps a dozen years ago and ran it  until 2015, when they started Fish Crazy. They have NO relationship with Randy's Fishmarket anymore-that's now run by a lawyer. The best cooks followed them to Fish Crazy. Let's just say that outside of the walls, "Randy's  Fishmarket has little of what it used to be. If you liked Randy's, then Fish Crazy is the only "true" Randy's...Randy Essig just moved its culinary essence to a better setting.   Chef Hector was the Executive chef at Randy's until 2 years ago, when he started the popular La Pinata Restaurant. He is now Executive Chef at Fish Crazy. Manager James Miller is easy to spot as he makes the rounds; he is your go to person for compliments, questions or suggestions.

Fish Crazy, 14700 Tamiami Trail North,  Naples, FL (239) 260-1070  http://www.fishcrazyrestaurant.com/

Randy and Chef Hector

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