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Satisfying Seafood

Another look at Bluefin reveals an improved menu, polished service

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When we first visited Bluefin Seafood Bistro in June, we were quite disappointed ("Below Expectations," Chow, June 23). We found mediocre service and dishes that were hit and miss--and when they missed, they missed badly. Considering that Bluefin is the sister restaurant of longtime Tucson fave Kingfisher, these below-average experiences were downright shocking.

After our review, Kingfisher and Bluefin co-owner Jeff Azersky wrote us, saying that in the wake of the review, the good folks in charge had made some menu changes and "addressed ... service issues with twice-weekly staff meetings" ("Bluefin: We're Constantly Working to Improve," Mailbag, July 14). He requested a re-review, and we agreed to do just that in a few months.

Well, it's a few months later, and Garrett and I decided to visit the Casas Adobes Plaza restaurant on a recent Friday evening. The beautiful décor was unchanged from our first visit, and a talented young piano player tickled the ivories, providing an elegant mood (although it was a bit loud, making conversation challenging).

The menu had quite a few offerings that were different, although we were glad to see that some of our faves remained. We mixed dishes we'd had before and things we had not. For appetizers, we picked the smoked bluefish ($8), which previously earned raves; we also picked the blue crab cakes ($12). I decided to check out the New England clam chowder ($6), and Garrett and I split the ahi tuna and napa cabbage salad ($11).

The service, other than a delay in being seated, was delightful, after it was so-so at best during our previous visits. This time, our server was conscientious, knowledgeable and perfectly pleasant.

But how about the food? The smoked bluefish was again amazing; the salty, smoky fish works amazingly well with the red onion jam and the fantastic curry mustard. And the crab cakes? Wow--what an improvement. Whereas the crab risotto cakes, on the menu during our previous visits, were salty and almost inedible, these blue crab cakes were deliciously mellow and melt-in-your-mouth soft. There wasn't enough of the lemon-ginger aioli, but we didn't care: The crab stood on its own.

The soup, which I'd had before and liked, was improved by the addition of more clams. And the ahi tuna and napa cabbage salad was huge--they were kind enough to split it onto two plates, and each looked like a full portion. It was also delicious: They soy-chile dressing was just slightly sweet and just slightly tart, contrasting wonderfully with the cooked-to-order chunks of rare ahi. It was impressive.

For the main courses, Garrett got the sautéed Mexican shrimp "scampi style" ($17), while I repeated what I got last time: the Alaskan king crab legs (market price; $30 on this night). Garrett enjoyed the pasta dish, featuring linguine, garlic, tomato, parsley, white wine and a healthy dose of pancetta. At first, he commented that the dish wasn't as flavorful as he'd prefer, but by the end of the meal, it had grown on him. He said the Italian bacon's pairing with the shrimp made the dish--although he was baffled about the entrée's "Mexican" moniker, as it didn't seem Mexican at all.

On the flip side, my crab was disappointing. It was the lone aspect of the evening that was inferior to our first visits. Before, the crab was perfectly prepared; on this night, it was overcooked and undercleaned. There was green goo stuck in the joint ends of some of the legs, and the meat was tough and not as flavorful.

For dessert, we decided to share the lemon ginger poundcake ($7). (On our previous visit, we had the delicious torta negra, $8. We were surprised to bite in and taste nuts, because there was no mention of nuts on the menu. This was a stunning oversight, considering how dangerous nut allergies can be; we were happy to see it now described as a "flourless chocolate-nut torte.") The poundcake proved to be the highlight of the meal: The cake drizzled with lemon-caramel sauce, along with a few berries, was phenomenal. It came along with vanilla ice cream, which was just in the way; the cake was that good.

Our evening was top-notch, other than the poorly prepared crab. Bluefin has improved greatly over the last few months and is a place I'd definitely recommend. The northwest side now has its own fine seafood restaurant--one that is far from being a disappointment.

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