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Big Bang Bang Theory

Bonefish may be a strip-mall chain, but this catch is worth the wait.


Way back in 1964, when I listened to the Marvelettes sing the bouncy "Too Many Fish in the Sea" on my transistor radio, I was too dumb to figure out that the song was a musical metaphor for fresh boyfriend material (short ones, tall ones, fine ones, kind ones). I thought it was about, you know, fish.

Not that I would have known about the sea having too many fish. The only aquatic creatures that ever made it to our family dinner table were shaped like wooden pegs. My mom, the world's laziest cook, loved the convenience of throwing rock-hard frozen fish sticks onto a cookie sheet and heating them up until they were steamy and crisp. Gourmet it was not.

Fast-forward to 2006. There probably aren't as many undersea creatures in our commercially overfished oceans. But there are still plenty of fish in KC! Not just at the familiar seafood venues — the lowbrow Red Lobster, the pricier Bristol and McCormick & Schmick's — but from a less familiar school of names, such as Fish City on Blue Ridge Boulevard or Westport's Boozefish Wine Bar, which is more about booze than fish.

The new shark circling the local restaurant reef is the Northland outpost of the dinner-only Bonefish Grill. The newcomer is part of Florida's Outback Steakhouse Company dining empire, which also includes Carrabba's Italian Grill and Cheeseburger in Paradise. It's already taking a big bite out of the seafood market share. Since opening in early March, the first Bonefish Grill in the Kansas City area (a second venue in Leawood opens in May) has been reeling in diners through its revolving door at such a rapid clip that it's not surprising to find patrons waiting more than an hour for a table on weeknights. What's even more remarkable is the fact that the Bonefish Grill is located in a shopping center, the Tuileries Plaza, that is still under construction.

On the first night I visited the restaurant, I called ahead to get directions from a savvy hostess who warned me that "Tuileries doesn't look like it's opened yet, but if you keep circling around Lucerne Avenue, you'll find us." I did, though my dining companions weren't convinced that I knew where I was going. Carol Jean, Taylor and my friend Jim, who is legally blind, worried that it was a literal case of the blind leading the blind.

Unlike many of its casual-dining-chain rivals, Bonefish Grill actually takes reservations. I was glad I made one as our group walked toward the restaurant's front door early on a Saturday night and saw a sour-faced couple walking out. "Was the food good?" I asked, hopefully. "How would we know?" answered the male. "There's already an hour wait."

Customers were packed into the smaller, saloon side of the Bonefish building — dare I say it? — like sardines as we squeezed in and wriggled over to the hostess station. Even with reservations, we were told that we had a 20-minute wait. But it really wasn't that long. Carol Jean speculated that a manager noticed that one of our group had a cane and felt guilty that we were caught in the crush. All I know is that after five minutes, we were whisked out of the bar and into the more spacious, comfortable dining room.

"It's a beautiful space," Taylor said. "The lighting is very theatrical, the servers are very attractive, and it has an air of, you know, class."

For a corporate interior design (almost all of the Bonefish properties look alike), it is quite tasteful: shiny hardwood floors, tables cloaked in heavy white vinyl and topped with a swath of white butcher paper, silver-wire bread baskets, cloth napkins. The menu is a single sheet of heavy card stock, printed with an uncomplicated selection of starters, three salads, 10 grilled fish choices, two sautéed versions, a couple of pasta dishes, two steaks and as many grilled chicken options and grilled pork chops. The server was kind enough to bring a Braille menu for Jim, which he waved away. "Feel how thick it is," he said. "It would be like reading Tolstoy." So I read the other menu aloud.

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