A GOOD SIGN Bonefish's calling card.
There are chains that give chain restaurants a bad name, that think earned popularity can be franchised. And then there are chains that do it right, that optimize the advantages of scale and localize as much as possible. Bonefish Grill is a tasty case study of the latter.
Starting out in St. Petersburg a dozen years ago, they now have more than 150 restaurants in 30 states. A cousin who spends a lot of time in Florida recommended the place. So when they opened a Cranston location, their New England toe in the water, we thought we'd check it out.
The first thing that impressed me was that they didn't get all thematically cutesy with the decor: no clutter of anchors and pipe-jutting old salts in sou'westers. A row of miniature red mangroves atop a partition, an homage to their Florida roots, is about as gaudy as it gets. There is brown butcher paper on the tablecloths and white jackets on the plentiful waitstaff, with the practical addition of pen-holder pockets on the left upper sleeves.
The menu is equally well thought out. The dozen appetizers cover a wide span of tastes, from oysters on the half shell ($10.50 for 6) for raw bar aficionados to wagyu beef with ginger dumplings ($8.20) for diehard carnivores. The list begins with a mixed ceviche ($7.90), which should top the menu of every seafood restaurant as a declaration of freshness. In welcome relief from the traditional Rhode Island preparation, their fried calamari ($8.30) has a sweet and spicy Asian sauce.
Among that array, marked with a starfish as a popular item, were Bang Bang Shrimp ($8.90). What a treat. Not only were there easily 20 medium shrimp tossed in a pink creamy sauce, slightly spicy, but they were from Maine — such a surprising and welcome respite from the usual Asian source. Not every restaurant takes advantage of their being in season.
Our other starters were also better than they had to be. The New England clam chowder ($5.70/$6.50) didn't taste like a foreign recipe: properly creamy, it was given additional depth by plenty of bacon (the menu said "with a hint of bacon," but I'm glad they didn't stint). The house salad ($4.90, with entrée $2.90) had two Floridian touches: a citrus herb vinaigrette and a heart of palm spear. If the Caesar salad (same price) were the standard preparation everywhere, I'd always order it: small croutons tossed in dressing separately, plus a half-dozen strips of anchovy at no extra charge. Way to go. The bread served beforehand was also done definitively: a small, warm loaf with olive oil — atop a pool of pesto — in addition to wrapped pats of butter.
Those shanghaied carnivores have their choice of a half-dozen wood-grilled meats, from the popular Lily's chicken ($14.30) under a lemon-basil sauce to a sirloin and crab cake dinner ($19.70). But for those properly in the swing of things, there are six kinds of regular-menu grilled fish plus a scallops and shrimp combo ($16.90), along with a few baked and sauteed choices, such as pecan-Parmesan-crusted rainbow trout ($17.50).