Seafood Unlimited

270 South 20th Street
215 SEA FOOD (732-3663)

This seafood market and conjoined restaurant demystifies the arcana of most center city “fish stories.” My recollection is that it opened in the neighborhood in the early 1970’s to be a meager fish-mongering fortress.  The restaurant and bar phases took decades to augment the purchasing experience thereafter. And today, there is simply no better fishy Philly shebang for your buck.  Frankly, you’ll be hooked.

One enters upon a tiny six-tushed-stools-bar (and T.V.) area to the right, followed forward to tanks of live lobsters and cases of iced fish.  All then leads to the restaurant proper, although “proper” is not a term precisely dispositive of its description.  Brown tables, held steady by black metal supporting bases, can be counted at less than ten.  Lime green banquettes back up to two long side walls, each of which is laden with an extremely wide mirror in an attempt to make the eyes see more dimensional space than really exists. Turn-of-the-century tiled floors, white brick, and splashes of maroon paint supplement the total feel as one of humility and friendliness.

Never miss starting with this eatery’s chowders. A soup-spoonful of New England Clam Chowder ($5.50/bowl) passes your lips, and brings to them every limerick whose first line ends with “Nantucket.”  The broth is oatmeal-colored brown, bedazzled with three oyster crackers soaking in creamy subtlety and chopped clams.  The heated liquid coats your tongue, then evaporates somewhere near your larynx.  Your throat begs your pardon, but begins clam-mering for more.

Manhatten Clam Chowder ($ Id.) is as red as the face of a Common Pleas judge reading her or his Opinion’s unanimous reversal by a Superior Court panel; and just as steamed, but much more tastefully done.  The judgment here is to load chunks of thick diced potatoes and clams into a crowded bowl, burbling in sultry, supple tomato base.  No use ordering anything with more supreme liquidity.

Let me not forget these pompously-portioned somewhat more solid appetizers: Steamed Mussels-Marinara ($8.95), a mountain of large mollusks fermented in ribald thick chunky gravy; or the “Seafood Cobb Salad with Crabmeat, Shrimp & Scallops” ($14), a beautifully arranged cornucopia of huge crab-lumps, twirled jumbo shrimp, cool scallops cut wide-wise and a hard-boiled egg sliced in half to expose its golden middle. Spread over greens, cubed white potatoes and gorgonzola cheese crumbles, this salad is as honestly diversified, forthright and fabulous as any in the city.

Entrées are no less simply and supererogatorily prepared. Seafood Unlimited’s chef, Chris Jones, and its owner, David Einhorn have taken freshness to extremes. They neither suffocate nor superimpose unnecessary sauciness or clashing aftertastes. What is plated is not gold-plated. Simplicity sparkles more.

Even the Sesame Crusted Chilean Bass, served with Bok Choy and zucchini frites ($23.50) has a constant theme over which the Sea Bass reigns, unified by a spritely Oriental honey-miso glaze.  The dish is brimming with the pearlized white fish flesh, smothered in mahogany shininess, and blanketed with frothy-crisp frites. The bass filet melds and melts at the slightest jiggle of your jaws. The zucchini tickle the top of your palate, forcing your tongue upward to quell the emerging appreciative laughing gurgle.

Less complicated fare?  Try the Grilled Swordfish with French Fries and Cole Slaw ($17).  There’s nothing more hearty and plain in concept.  Your pupils dilate as you sip and slurp in the deeply-fried potatoes.  Drown and engorge them in wet slaw; complement the sopping concoction with a thick slice of swordfish.  Now almost mindless, reach for more fries and renew the process before you’ve swallowed.  Soon the bulges of your cheeks become blatantly “swordid.”

The tables are close enough here to share anecdotes and any leftovers.  Everyone wins the congeniality contest, especially after a few swigs of the house special bottle of Pinot Grigio ($17).  Mild multi-table arguments occur only while discussing which desserts to order.  “One Key Lime Pie and two forks.”  “Make that four forks and two extra plates.”  “No, let’s have Carrot Cake, extra icing, with three more plates and three more forks; and a Blueberry Streusel on the side.”  You’ll need the forks and extra plates for neighboring pilferers who politely invite themselves to your merriment, expecting, the next time, to return the favor.  It’s that kind of kindness that defines your meal at Seafood Unlimited.  And it’s not easy giving Carrot Cake of this quality to anyone else.  The cake is close to gingerbread rustic, bloated with assorted sweets to resemble a chockablock.  Obviously started from scratch: as homemade as it is homespun.  The icing takes the cake to a sixth dimension.  The cream cheese tartness requires you to part and purse your lips in a full-blown swarthy kiss.  Patrons around you pucker in unison.


Copyright 2008 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back