Under the Sea

Certainly no normal interior decorator would have selected this palette: olive walls and ceilings, aqua tabletops, purple octagonal bread plates, tropically multicolored carpeting. Despite the striking, almost jarring combination, there's something vaguely familiar about the scheme. Where have you seen it before?

And then, especially if you have kids of a certain age, it hits you. It's right out of The Little Mermaid! And what could be more appropriate for a restaurant called Crazy Fish?

Actually, this is the second restaurant called Crazy Fish, and it's much larger than the original in Clayton, which is humorously referenced on the new place's bar chalkboard as "Little Fish." In taking over an outbuilding of Chesterfield Mall that first housed a western branch of Yen Ching, atmosphere was obviously an important consideration here, with the unique decor not just limited to the raucous submarine color scheme. There are matching fishy prints on all the walls; '60s-ish blond wood on the tables, chairs and chair railings; and a whimsical metal sculpture and mosaic in the entryway.

And, as you'd probably expect from someplace that devotes this much artistry to its atmosphere, there's a good deal of care put into the food's appearance, although Crazy Fish does a good job of avoiding many of the excesses of the "tall food" style of presentation.

Despite the restaurant's name, there are plenty of nonseafood items on the self-described "cross-cultural" menu, which comprises 10 grilled items and 10 other entrees, along with about half-a-dozen salads, four sandwiches and five "flat bread" pizzas. But les poissons, les poissons, j'adore les poissons, so we tacked toward the sea for most of our selections.

The Crazy Combo appetizer ($14.95) afforded us the chance to float through several of the starter offerings, including a crab cake, a crawfish cake, a thoroughly festive grilled scallop, a couple of "voodoo" shrimp and a "Jamaican barbecue" tamale, all precisely laid out on a medium-size serving plate. Every item had its own merits, but the scallop was the scene-stealer, a large sea-sized disc with a similarly sized potato cake beneath it, all dancing in a corn relish that blended a touch of sweetness in the corn with a matching hint of citrus. The voodoo in the shrimp came from jalapeno, which gave it a bright-green outline, and the spiciness was tangible, although I would have preferred that it be a bit more fiery. The crab cake was a fluffy mixture with a sufficient quantity of crab for texture and taste, as well as some added flavor from red bell pepper, and the crawfish cake had rich chunks of tail meat and a lip-tingling chile aioli. In counterpoint to all this, the tamale was fairly tame but did include a well-flavored mixture of roasted veggies inside a thick, slightly sweet cornmeal wrapping. A different type of sweetness, along with a mild bit of smoke, was added by a barbecue sauce.

My quest for fire in the appetizer portion of shrimp was fulfilled by the "shrimp-and-voodoo" pasta ($16.95), in which the primary spiciness came from a jalapeno-and-cheese cream sauce. The mild spicing on the shrimp -- of which there were six, shelled except for the tails -- worked better here, because overspicing in this case, combined with the sauce, would have overwhelmed the flavor of the shellfish. The base of the dish was a perfect complement of squid-ink-black fettuccine.

Our other entree was a grouper described as "potato-crusted" ($16.95), which translated into what you would get if you substituted the paper wrapping of the traditional en papillote preparation of grouper with hash browns, then topped it with grilled portobello mushrooms and drizzled it with, of all things, a horseradish sauce. It took a daring imagination to come up with such a combination, but this particular risk led to significant rewards.

I'd be hard-pressed to remember any dessert that I liked that I wasn't able to finish, but Crazy Fish achieved this feat with its signature Tulip ($7.50), a white- and dark-chocolate shell in an oversized version of the flower's bloom, with white-chocolate mousse at the base of the interior, then a mixture of fresh raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries, topped off with whipped cream and mint leaves. If you decide to get a Tulip, share it.

Even the cappuccino gets in on the unusual palette, served in a seaweed-colored cup over a sea-blue saucer.

The wine list is moderately long and represents a wide-ranging selection of varietals and regions, although, as I've noticed in several restaurants recently, no Oregon Pinot Noirs. Bottle prices run from $18-$180, although most are in the $20-$50 range. Our service was prompt, especially because it appeared to be prom night and our waitress was balancing a couple of large tables in addition to us.

Although the place certainly seats more than 150, it was full by 6 p.m. on a weekend night. As the weather gets warmer, the restaurant will have at its disposal additional outdoor tables, overlooking a rocky waterfall that could almost make you forget you're sitting adjacent to a giant shopping mall -- which, of course, has both a video store and a Disney store, in case you'd like to take home some souvenirs to reinforce the memory of your meal.

TIDBITS: While we're talking fish, Blue Water Grill has opened its new location at 343 S. Kirkwood Rd., including expansions over the Hampton Avenue original in terms of menu, seating capacity and parking. Also new in town is the Berkshire Grill, which opened about 10 days ago at 12455 St. Charles Rock Rd. in Bridgeton. It's another "cross-cultural" style of restaurant, featuring everything from mussel zupa to spinach-and-smoked-chicken egg rolls. And keep an eye out for the opening of Sophia's Cafe, a Mediterranean-influenced restaurant at Olive and Route 141 that is boasting that it attracted one of Kansas City's top chefs to make the trek across the state.

16125 Chesterfield Pkwy.

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.

Entrees: $11.95-$18.95

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