Emerald Fish


Emerald Fish
65 Barclay Farms Shopping Center
Route 70 East, Cherry Hill
Credit cards accepted

Although it seems as if steak houses have been popping up like daffodils, the fish restaurant has a fine history in our city. Philly is famous for Philadelphia Fish & Co., now in its 21st year; 15th Street Bookbinders, nearing its 60th birthday; the Sansom Street Oyster House, which has the best happy hour in town — where else can you get a half-dozen jumbo freshly shucked cherrystone clams for $2.50? — and, of course, Neil Stein’s first-rate Striped Bass.

Seeking a fish restaurant in South Jersey can be tricky, although any number of places serves fresh fish and shellfish. My husband Edward and I found a restaurant tucked away in the Barclay Farms Shopping Center that specializes in fresh fish. It’s called Emerald Fish, it’s a BYOB and it’s open for lunch and dinner.

Emerald Fish is owned by chef Laura Kaplan, who also has two sous-chefs helping out in the brightly lit open kitchen. The walls are covered in original depictions of emerald fish, painted by her father. We settled into a comfortable table for four and discussed the menu. Our waiter recited the list of specials, without prices, so I walked over to the blackboard that listed them with prices. Each special was a few dollars more than dishes on the menu.

Our waiter opened our wine — a crisp, slightly grassy Sauvignon Blanc that we knew would pair well with any number of fish dishes. Warm pita and a loaf of fresh Italian bread arrived with a dish of slightly peppery olive oil.

Soup of the day ($6 for a cup) was a roasted curried shrimp bisque, which was rather thin and lacked a shrimp flavor. All I could taste was the curry. Bisques are rich and creamy and often contain bits of shrimp or lobster, depending on the shellfish used in preparing the soup.

A big bowl of black bean soup ($4 for a cup, $5 for a generous bowl), on the other hand, was very well prepared. The soup was piping hot, rich and hearty, enhanced by just the right amount of chipotle peppers, sour cream and diced scallions. The soup was quite satisfying.

Edward and I shared Prince Edward Island mussels ($8.50), which came as a small portion. According to the menu, they were prepared in a fumet with fresh herbs, tomatoes and a hint of cream. All we could taste was a thin, milky liquid that was a bit bland.

House or Caesar salad comes with dinner. The house contained too much red-leaf lettuce along with just a bit of baby greens. Of the dressings on offer, I chose the homemade blue cheese, but tasted mostly the vinaigrette. The Caesar was a little on the dry side, although the romaine lettuce was crisp.

Rainbow trout is a classic fish with a nutty flavor. Emerald Fish’s version ($22) was pan-seared, contained too much salt and pepper, and was buried under a mound of spinach flecked with cold crabmeat. Our waiter brought me a plate so I could place the spinach on the side. A timbale of jasmine rice and mushrooms and skewered green peppers came with my platter, and were on the cool side.

The shellfish combination ($19) included jumbo shrimp and scallops, which were seared just right. Unfortunately, the sauce was salty and did not taste like the ginger-green onion reduction described on the menu. Roasted potatoes and chunks of zucchini and mushrooms came with this dinner.

Service was professional and attentive. Our waiter changed our silverware with each course and poured our wine as our glasses were emptied.

It seems Kaplan and her staff are trying too hard to be fancy or distinctive. I am not questioning the quality of ingredients used at Emerald Fish, but such ingredients can speak for themselves without too many additions that can mask their flavor. Keeping the dishes simple would result in a tastier meal.

One tip of the toque to Emerald Fish.