Hello, sailor

Maritime Seafood & Grill

6440 Fair Oaks Blvd.
Carmichael, CA 95608

(916) 489-8464

Years ago, my mother moved to Carmichael, and on one of her first weekends there we ended up circling endlessly, looking for a place to eat that wasn’t Denny’s and didn’t include the words “drive-thru.” In the early ’90s, that was a fruitless search. But things have changed, particularly now with the opening of Morgan Song’s Maritime Seafood & Grill. Song has two others of the same name—one in Woodland, one in Redding—but this is by no means a typical chain restaurant. It’s distinctive and ambitious. That’s the good news; the possibly less good news is that some of the food seems to hark back to the ’90s, with its impressive garnishes, its mile-high stacking, its elaborate plate compositions.

It’s an odd set of contrasts, the restaurant itself starkly minimalist and very lovely, the food rather maximalist and sometimes overdone. The unlikeliness of the setting only makes this paradox the more odd: The restaurant is in the space formerly occupied by Cops Donuts, a short-lived, cheap burgers-and-fries-and-doughnuts joint with a goofy police theme. The serenely elegant Maritime is the farthest thing from goofy: It has lovely wood floors; a large dining space cut up into intimate, dimly lit small rooms; brocaded booths; and a smoked-glass window into the kitchen. (The effect of the tinted glass, my husband pointed out, is that the cooks look like they’re underwater.) They can’t do much about the front-window view of the glowing 99 Cents Only Store across the street, but the inside is beautiful.

The menu strives hard as well, but in a different direction. It’s short and fairly focused: a couple of salads, several composed starters and seven entrees—three seafood and four meat. If the “seafood & grill” part of the restaurant’s name makes you think of simple slabs of fish with a choice of rice or potatoes on the side, put that thought out of your mind. You’ll find no vegetables of the day here, but rather carefully planned, meticulously arranged sides and sauces and embellishments—some in wee martini glasses and the like—for each dish. Some of the menu descriptions run to three lines.

Every table receives a little amuse-bouche—on our visit, a tiny, hot pastry shell stuffed with salmon and scallop mousse and topped with smoked mozzarella. This rich little morsel made a pleasant one-bite starter as we studied the largely appealing wine list. Maritime is a bit of an expense-account place, or at least has special-occasion prices, and I liked the fact that the special (and priciest) wines had their own page, with full descriptions of what each library bottle would be like.

A starter of calamari steaks, stuffed with an orange roughy brandade, comes with whole-grain mustard puree, mango salsa, and tomato coulis. Even this description doesn’t quite convey the dish, which my husband ordered as a starter. Each little roulade of tender calamari was presented like a sushi roll and topped with some different little touch, like wasabi caviar. Sadly, it was less than the sum of its parts. The calamari itself was very tender and lightly battered; the orange roughy “brandade” inside, though, had none of the creaminess or satisfying, flavorful punch of traditional brandade. Orange roughy is a curiously bland fish, and the filling tasted just like a rough-chopped paste of it, adding little to the flavor of the dish.

My starter of langoustine and gnocchi in a creamy langoustine broth was also interesting in conception and marked by some excellent touches, but somewhat flawed. The gnocchi were gummy and heavy, the light cream “broth” with bits of spinach a little muddled in its flavor. The tender pink langoustines, however, were plump, firm and sweet.

We also shared a salad, hoping for a touch of green amid the menu’s rather rich fare, but it was only a touch: arugula with a polenta-gorgonzola crouton was more crouton than arugula. Quail eggs and tomato coulis added prettiness to the composition.

My salmon entrée was cooked through yet still moist, and I enjoyed the bright-flavored leeks in lemon cream sauce on which it sat, as well as the crisp chips of salmon skin. I was less crazy about the addition of salmon roe to the top; it made the dish too fishy. The composition of the plate, amusingly, looked rather like a little face: blobs of sweet butternut puree for eyes, a piped mashed-potato mound for a nose, the salmon as mouth.

My husband’s pork tenderloin dish was, to my mind, the least pleasing of the night. The pork was in cutlets, stuffed with blue cheese, breaded and fried, and then topped with Burgundy-poached pears, sweet potato puree, and dessert-like cinnamon apples, making for an overwhelmingly sweet plate; the flavor of the pork was entirely lost.

Service was friendly if a bit unpracticed and tentative for the setting and prices. Our server, for instance, had a bit of trouble delivering the highly composed plates: My tower of dessert sorbets nestled in a brandy-snap “bowl” toppled just as it was being set down. It could happen to anyone, but it points up some of the slight inconsistencies of the restaurant. That said, the sorbets were intensely, cleanly flavored and the light, crunchy cookie bowl was lovely.

Maritime Seafood & Grill brings some much-needed fine dining to Carmichael, and its ambition and high-style design are palpable. Not all of that ambition is fully realized—I’d prefer to see the dishes stripped down some so the basic flavors can really shine through—but it’s nice to see a place really trying.