I begin most articles about restaurants by describing the location, the décor, the ambiance, or the theme. I’ll talk about the charismatic chef, the laconic owner, or the endearing family connection. But this time I’m going to start by describing a meal that I very much enjoyed; everything else will have to wait.
I believe that any meal at Madfish Grill has to begin with a cup of the Chilled Mangospacho, at least, any meal of mine does. The recipe for the mango gazpacho is not a closely guarded secret: You can find it with pictures and step-by-step instructions at madfishgrillblog.com (more later on why this is just one way in which Madfish Grill is the coolest neighborhood seafood restaurant in town). The chilled soup is sweet and spicy and refreshing in a way that is also comforting—and that’s no small feat.
After the remarkably flavorful soup whets your appetite there are any number of fresh, seasonal dishes to choose from a plethora of menus including the area’s most comprehensive gluten-free and kids’ options. I opted for the Poke Salmon this time. Tender chunks of spicy poke-style salmon rest on a disc of jasmine rice garnished with ripe slices of avocado and fresh pea shoots. This dish is a textural marvel with pillowy grains of jasmine rice, tangy buttery hunks of salmon, creamy avocado, and the slight crunch of the pea shoots. The jasmine rice is cooked in a little bit of butter, which echoes the buttery notes in the fresh fish and avocado and underscores the Asian flavors in the poke-style raw fish salad.
Like everything at Madfish Grill this meal showcases fresh, seasonal ingredients and an understanding of complex flavor that belies the restaurant’s simple charm. Madfish Grill is housed in the old Barnett Bank building off Cattleman just south of Bee Ridge Road. The owners, Miles and Mindy Millwee, were no strangers to the Sarasota restaurant scene when they opened Madfish Grill in 2008—soon after they sold the incredibly popular Hillview Grill, which they had owned and operated since 1988. Miles and Mindy wanted a change of scenery and they chose a well-trafficked area.
The concept for Madfish Grill is fresh seafood highlighted by tropical flavors, utilizing local fishermen whenever possible. The Madfish on the logo is a mola, a Latin American art piece made by a native tribe known as the Kuna.
“When we purchased the building we inherited all of these beautiful molas that were bought from a sailor. One of them was this colorful fish and we nicknamed it ‘The Madfish’ and the name just seemed right,” says Miles, the charismatic owner, who smiles as he remembers those first weeks. We’re sitting in the restaurant’s semi-private dining room, which was once the bank’s vault, and we’re joined by Chef Ben Gough. Ben was trained in Boston, and New England seafood features on the menu in the form of melt-in-your-mouth Ipswich clam bellies—which tend to sell out quickly after they’re delivered fresh every week. Two of the bartenders are also Boston transplants and have been with Madfish from the beginning.
I’m not necessarily suggesting that this is Sarasota’s answer to Cheers but chances are if you visit more than once the bartenders will quickly know your name, and they’ll always be glad that you came.
► Madfish Grill: 4059 Cattleman Rd,
Sarasota; 941-377-3474; madfishgrill.com