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Outside the front doors of the Fresh Fish Companywas a valet -- a big fella, slouched in his chair at the curb, hands in the pockets of his windbreaker. He was staring out at a lot with room for about 10,000 cars, enough parking for the hundreds of people who can fit inside this restaurant to park their own cars, then toddle to the door under their own power. And yet here he was, ready to provide a service that no one was using.
7800 E. Hampden Ave.
Denver, CO 80237
Region: Southeast Denver
Ginger sesame mahi mahi: $21.95
Lemon-caper halibut: $22.95
Basil-pesto mahi mahi: $21.95
Filet mignon: $24.95
Lobster (1 pound): $26.95
King crab: $39.95
Crab Oscar: $29.95
Just inside the door was a lobster tank holding a dozen-odd victims all lumped up in one corner. One of them was about to become my dinner. I picked out a likely specimen and gave him the eye: You're next, pal. I also gave him a name: Larry. Larry the Lobster.
Once in the restaurant proper, I was folded smoothly into the slam dance of Saturday-night service -- registered, my reservations checked, my name recorded. We were told to wait a moment while my party's table was prepared, then cut from the waiting throngs, whisked through the restaurant's huge warren of interconnected dining zones and shown to our table in a room filled with tanks so the fish could see exactly who was the dominant species. It was like being seated for dinner inside a shopping-mall pet store. And before the menus had even arrived, I was handed a customer comment card and told that it was important that I fill it out when I was through with my meal. So I did, and here it is.
THE FRESH FISH COMPANY: HOW DO WE MEASURE UP?
Your valued comments are appreciated and encouraged!
How was your initial experience at the podium? (Excellent Good Poor)
Good. But I must admit that when I entered this establishment, I felt like I'd stepped straight into any one of a dozen bad '80s summer comedies featuring B-list Hollywood funnymen as fathers who take their brood to the seashore for a much-needed vacation. Remember John Candy in Summer Rental? The scene where the rich townie gets the last lobster out of the tank and Candy and his family are forced to go to the floating fish restaurant where Rip Torn serves them frozen scrod? Yeah, like that. At the Fresh Fish Company, you've got that Cape Cod crab-shack-cutesy thing down cold with all the dark wood, the plain tables, the booths upholstered in the same busy floral print as Grandma's second-best sofa (minus the plastic cover), the mounted trophy fish and the lobster tank. The place looks so much like the combo snack bar/gift shop at the end of the Disneyland Finding Nemo Adventure Ride, I expected all the servers to wear pirate hats, stuffed parrots perched on their shoulders, and call everyone "me hearty." Good for you for resisting: There's such a thing as pushing a theme too far.
How would you rate your server and service? (Knowledgeable Friendly Attentive Other)
Our server was all of the above, as well as obsequious, fawning, robotic, overbearing and stifling. Does a server rate as "knowledgeable" just because he's memorized the entire (not insubstantial) menu and can give a rote recitation of everything -- every special, every sauce, every side item and every salad-dressing combination possible within the mathematical confines of the current board of fare? Does he count as "attentive" when he delivers said recitation with his eyes focused on some distant point above our heads, droning like a flight attendant giving the safety instructions to a rowdy bunch of business-class flyers for the hundredth time that night? "Have you been to the Fresh Fish Company before? No? Well, let me tell you a little bit about us...." And then on and on for what seemed like an hour. Granted, it was an impressive feat of memorization, but I've heard that parrots can be trained to do Shakespearean soliloquies if you beat them enough. And they'd probably deliver their spiel with a bit more feeling.
Beyond that, our service was certainly friendly. No want went unfulfilled, no need uncatered to. My crab legs were split for me, the claws cracked and served absent shells. My lobster meat was pulled from the shell and curled around a fork for easy removal; a waitress offered to tie a bib around my neck. I'm sure I could have asked our server to hang lobster claws off his ears and dance the hully-gully and he would've done so with a wink and a smile. So friendly, yes. But when taken to such an extreme, service feels less like service and more like servitude. I understand that the Fresh Fish Company is trying to offer a full-service dining experience -- witness the valet napping by the giant lot -- but unless you're going to throw in free dessert and a hand job, I could do without some of the training wheels. If I ask and you comply, that's good service. If you see something is wrong and fix it, that's good, too. But assuming that I need to have my meat cut for me? That's overkill.
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