(Before I start, I should mention this isn’t a fried fish review.)
Lately, the Friday fish fry menu has been the draw for us at The Spot. While I enjoyed the fried walleye last week and the grilled salmon the week before that, tonight the seared cobia gets my vote.
Cobia is a firm, fairly fatty, flavorful white fish. The Spot flash sears it: the skin side comes crispy, the meat side, bronzed, and the core, wonderfully raw.
Think sashimi, but add carmelized fat (if you eat the skin) and a more succulent lusciousness. Searing collects the juices and drives them inward, concentrating the moisture and fat to boost the flavor into the realm of the highest-quality toro. The Japanese call seared fish or meat tataki. But rather than pounded flat or sliced thin as in tataki, the Spot’s seared cobia is an inch-and-a-half thick.
What a surprisingly adventurous dish for such a straight-ahead, casual restaurant. Anyone squeamish of sashimi or tartare might want the grilled salmon or fried walleye, instead. But I’m sure the palates of Madison’s Near Eastsiders will take to it, no problem.
I’m not used to any sauce on a seared piece of fish. But the chef adds TWO: a) a pesto cream, which seems a 21st Century update of the traditional mustard-mayo on tuna carpaccio — perfect for this mostly raw fish; and, b) a balsamic reduction. But, wait! There’s more. The fish floats atop a fluffy cloud of Parmesan risotto. Sound like an overwrought train wreck? Nope. It’s an ingenious amalgam of surprising textures and flavors that scores brilliantly. The sweet/tart drizzle of the balsamic reduction weds the rich sauce to the fatty fish perfectly. And the humble Parmesan risotto, which rivals the best I’ve had anywhere, causes no confusion with its only moderately-rich, mildly salty cheesiness. (I actually don’t love the Vegetable Quinoa Risotto elsewhere on the menu.)
Just a side note: at first blush the piece of fish seems small. But one feels that mild disappointment only relative to the portions of restaurants charging twice the price of this dish. There may not be a lot to take home in a doggy bag. But with the risotto and the nice pile of broccoli, it’s plenty substantial, especially at just $17. I actually do have some left over and look forward to my midnight snack.
We then totally enjoy dessert: a savory, pumpkin cheesecake. The muted sweetness of the filling leaves the pumpkin really prominent. The dish gets its sweetness instead from candied pepitas (so flavorful and chewy, they’re clearly fresh-roasted) and a dollop of sugary fresh cream. The bartender tells us the pastry chef is formerly of the fancier restaurants Harvest and Graze.
When we first started eating at The Spot, I was addicted to the burgers. I’ve tried all three of the burgers on the menu and would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite. They’re all half-pound (I think) patties, grilled to order on a beautiful roll, with a side of wilted mustard greens (or any side dish). $8 for the basic burger, including the side dish? No wonder I was addicted.
I have tried the pork tenderloin and the sirloin steak. But I return again and again to the fish. I love the salmon from the regular menu. And another standout special has been the escolar.
Fish. That’s the chef’s strong suit.
Check out their menu, here.