A Wake Forest bistro brings the coast closer

CorrespondentAugust 19, 2005 

blue Fin's Bistro has been open for just over four months, barely long enough for the mango-colored paint to dry on the dining room walls. Oversize still-life paintings are as vibrant as the day the artist signed them, arched mirrors over the bar sparkle, and mahogany-stained tabletops remain relatively ding-free.

Yet, for all its newness and contemporary bistro design, Blue Fin's already has the feel of a local hangout.

It's easy to understand how the locals have taken to the place, given the variety and general excellence of its mostly seafood offerings. And once word gets around, I wouldn't be surprised to see Blue Fin's Bistro drawpatrons from North Raleigh and beyond. I would make the drive from Cary on Thursday nights, when raw or steamed oysters by the peck are half-price. I imagine there would be takers on Tuesdays, when first-rate steamed shrimp are half-price, and on Wednesdays, when a pound of crab legs is $5 off.

I'd happily set my coordinates for Blue Fin's address every other Saturday, too, when the lure isn't discounted prices but live music. It's one of those rare places where the music -- usually soft jazz, blues or acoustic -- begins playing early enough (between 8 and 9 p.m.) for those of us whose serious party days are ancient history.

While I'm waiting for the band to warm up, I'd start with crab and artichoke dip, one of the rare renditions of the dish in which the crab actually deserves top billing. I might take a chance on the seafood salad, though an accompanying bed of mesclun was marred recently by flecks of black and wilted greens. The seafood itself -- a buttery mixed saute of shrimp, scallops and lump crab meat, served in a tortilla shell -- was so good, I'd be willing to give the kitchen another shot at it.

The Blue Fin's Sampler would make a fine starter for families with children, a well-represented demographic in the early evening hours. The fried mozzarella sticks, served with marinara sauce for dipping, will be a hit with the kids. Same goes for the fried shrimp, though they're a bit too heavily breaded for some adult tastes (including mine). Everyone at the table will enjoy Southwest egg rolls, filled with a spicy-smoky melange of grilled chicken, corn, rice, beans, jalapenos and chili powder. Mom and Dad would be well advised, however, to hoard the fried oysters for themselves.

If the half-dozen oysters on the Blue Fin's Sampler merely whet your appetite for more, you can extend the feast with the oyster dinner entree. And if you liked the heavily breaded shrimp, you might even up the ante with the fried seafood combo platter, which serves up oysters, shrimp, scallops and a more-than-respectable crab cake.

The restaurant receives fresh seafood shipments almost daily, so pay attention when your server recites the fresh catch specials. If he forgets, you can always check the blackboard by the door. Typical options include grouper, swordfish and Norwegian salmon -- any of them available grilled, broiled, or blackened. For my money, grilled is the way to go.

That is, unless bacon-wrapped scallops are offered as a special. If they are, don't miss them.

Granted, raw bar fans will find it hard to resist the Blue Fin's selection of raw and steamed shellfish, which includes oysters, clams, shrimp and crab legs. With the occasional exception of chewy clams, the raw items are well worth indulging in.

The seafood at Blue Fin's is almost certain to be fresh, and almost as likely to be properly cooked. That's no surprise since owner and chef David Berent managed seafood restaurants in the Wilmington area for several years before deciding to set out on his own. Wake Forest is lucky he chose the town to set up shop. As for the rest of us, what's a little drive when the reward is half-price oysters and live jazz?

Greg Cox can be reached at ggcox@bellsouth.net.

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