Neighborhood seafood joint is quite the catch

From the people who brought you the chic sophistication of Hue, the big-city swank of Kres and the cosmopolitan flair of Citrus comes a restaurant blurring the boundaries between neighborhood bar, fine dining establishment and sanctuary for seafood devotees; a restaurant eschewing pretense and style for the sort of substance that highlights les fruits de la mer.

That kind of bombast may read like a press release issued by the Urban Life Management Restaurant Group but, surprisingly, it isn’t. Also surprising is how remarkably accessible and modest Cityfish is. Servers shuffle about in faded jeans and T-shirts and the graffiti’d, loft-style décor is undone by black-and-white photographs of vintage Floridiana and the token shimmering marlin ensconced on a wall.

Not surprising, however, is the quality of the food. Say what you want about Urban Life’s predilection for posh, but you can’t really knock their kitchens. Almost everything I had the pleasure of sampling here, I’d likely order again; everything, that is, except the mussels ($8). The mollusks from Prince Edward Island were fresh enough, but the advertised “spicy tomato broth” was as lackluster as it was tame. Still, two dozen mussels for eight bucks poses quite a deal – just don’t expect the appetizer to float your boat.

Cajun fish tortilla salad ($11) makes a satisfying meal in itself with two fluffy tilapia fillets sitting atop a field of greens colored with black beans, yellow corn and blue strips of tortilla chips. The fish is rubbed with a peppery seasoning and was probably the finest tilapia
I’ve had.

The basket of fish and chips ($10) – New England cod fried to a golden crisp – will make Maritimers swoon with nostalgia, though the “chips” weren’t the thick British variant and left much to be desired. Accompanying tartar sauce was a worthy dip and the coleslaw a worthy side. Interestingly enough, the basket came wrapped in faux newspaper; hygiene has pretty much precluded the use of the real thing.

Etched on the menu board was golden tilefish ($19), a fish I’d never sampled before but had heard about primarily because of its lobster-like flavor. The fish feasts on crabs and crustaceans and, sure enough, the buttery white flesh, simply grilled with a little salt and cracked pepper, was tinged with the flavor of lobster. It’s the kind of fish that’s so good it makes you giddy, though high levels of mercury may have had something to do with it. The main was sided with sautéed green beans, carrots and zucchini, with crisp jalapeño hush puppies and salted new potatoes elevating the dish all the more.

There’s also a focus on bivalves, with more than a dozen impeccable oysters from both coasts – creamy Kumamotos to briny Malpeques – offered at $3 a piece or less. For fishophobes, burgers, steaks, wings and sandwiches comprise the non-seafood items.

Desserts aren’t made in-house, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying the decadent Mississippi mud pie ($6), a creamy, moussey cake sure to please the most ardent of chocoholics. The sugary crust of the key lime pie ($6) made it a little too sweet for me to commend.

The limited street parking can be a drag, so your best bet is to park in the pay lot around the corner. Just note: The restaurant won’t validate.

Some have lamented the death of Central City Market, the space’s former tenant, but Cityfish is certainly doing its part to breathe new life into the Lake Eola/Thornton Park corridor. Unlike better seafood establishments in town, Cityfish exudes an easygoing vibe that makes dining here almost as fun an exercise as trying to say “Cityfish” five times fast.