Hot bass

The spices in the sea bass dish at Smokin’ Marlin are like fireworks in your mouth.

The spices in the sea bass dish at Smokin’ Marlin are like fireworks in your mouth.

Photo By David Robert

Upscale, family neighborhood restaurants pop up in the most unexpected places. For example, in the bowling alley at Wild Island Family Adventure Park. I’ve eaten in my share of bowling alleys, but this is something new—and a good idea.

Michael and I recently joined a bunch of families with kids and babies out for a Saturday night meal away from the chain restaurants. Smokin’ Marlin has that comfortable feeling of a chain, nothing threatening, but its funky décor and ever-so-slightly upscale attitude make it a place to go for, say, your birthday dinner extravaganza.

The noise level prevented us from hearing any pins drop and verged on a happy-hour roar. Or maybe it was just where we were seated.

Our waiter, Jacob, was refreshing. He really put his heart into being a waiter, which we noticed first when he told us what the specials were and he couldn’t keep his feet still. He was sure trying: He was polite, courteous, helpful; and he said, “Thank you, ma’am,” and “No, sir.” A welcome change from some of the “service” one encounters elsewhere.

For some reason, I was expecting a fish-themed menu, including, but not limited to, marlin. No marlin. But halibut, clams, shrimp, tuna and salmon were all over the menu, along with chicken, beef, pasta and pizza.

My entrée came with soup or salad, so I had the Mexican meatball soup. The spices were warm and the meatballs hearty. Michael’s dinner salad was fresh.

I ordered the special: pan-seared sea bass with Asian vegetables ($15.95). The fish itself was nicely cooked and tasty, but the spices knocked my socks off. They snuck up after a few seconds and exploded in my mouth like fireworks. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that particular blend of hot spices before. The heat lingered on my palate, but didn’t numb or burn like some chilies do.

When I asked Jacob what the spices were, he said it was a secret. Then he ran to the kitchen. He returned and reported that he was able to pry out of the chef that it was a blend of peppers, herbs and spices. I guess I’ll have to go back for more.

Michael had a rib eye steak ($15.95) which was a lovely 14-ounce cut, broiled to perfection, served with roasted potato wedges and zucchini and tomatoes. The beef was juicy and had plenty of marbling, which made for tender bites.

When we finished our dinners, we were on the verge of ordering the Tower, which is a chocolate-custard concoction served in a tall glass, when Michael remembered he had to make a final bid on a pressing eBay auction. The sale closed in 20 minutes.

We paid, thanked Jacob and zoomed home with only two minutes to spare before the auction ended. That’s where our luck ran out: Our Internet was down. When Michael finally was able to log on, the bidding was over, and six other people all around the world also made last-minute bids.

The fine dinner and poor Internet luck raised one final question: Do we drive back for dessert?