By Omar Mamoon
By Kate Williams
By Pete Kane
By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
The main courses, still decent, were less thrilling: a plate of bland bass, bland polenta, a heap of fresh green beans, and dabs of romesco sauce that suffered from the same timidity as the rouille. The almonds in the sauce were scarcely identifiable as chopped nuts and tasted of them even less, and though I'm sure it was made with fresh tomatoes, the end result had all the excitement of canned. My grilled salmon was a trifle jazzier, sided as it was with mildly bitter Swiss chard, but its lemon tarragon beurre blanc was thin and broken and didn't taste strongly of lemon or tarragon.
Things picked up a bit with dessert, a panna cotta and a semifreddo al crocante chosen from an Italianate list that also included affogato. The panna cotta, a molded custard of lightly gelatined cooked cream, was especially nice. But the rest of the meal had been the kind of food that you forget about even as you're eating it, and I proceeded to forget about Catch for a few weeks.
Ron and I chose to dine in the warmly lit dining room on another chilly night. We'd both spent the afternoon in prison -- Ron in San Quentin, me with Kevin Spacey on death row in Texas -- so we were more than ready for a little comfort and a good meal. Unlike the hefty, utilitarian tanks full of lobsters and shrimp in Chinese seafood palaces, the small, decorative aquariums full of glittering, ornamental fish set in the walls high above us felt faintly perverse. Sharing three starters seemed more extravagant in concept than it did once they were on the table. The Gruyère and truffle fondue betrayed no truffle presence at all (something of a blessing when you think of some of the acrid truffle oils out there), and was more of a thin sauce than a fondue; we didn't feel compelled to use up all the apple, pear, and toasted baguette slices that surrounded its small bowl, though the portion had appeared small at first glance. We didn't feel compelled to finish the clam chowder, either, which was neither of the dreaded library-paste variety nor of the exciting school of thick cream and fresh herbs: It just lay there, slightly gluey, largely tasteless. The best dish was the fritto misto, pleasantly fried calamari, shrimp, ribbons of fennel, and a couple of slices of artichoke, decorated with a wedge of grilled artichoke that was the most full-flavored thing I'd had at Catch.
Fritto misto $8
Blue-nose sea bass $16
Grilled salmon $12.75
Panna cotta $5
Open for lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Open for dinner Sunday through Thursday from 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 5:30 to 11 p.m.
Reservations accepted for parties of six or more
Muni: 24, F
Noise level: high
The fish choices this night were yellowtail jack with much the same accompaniments as the bass, a rerun of the salmon, and mahi-mahi again as the special. Ron wanted the yellowtail. We were close enough to our neighbors to have noted their disappointing plates of linguine (which seemed meager, especially in the number of clams) and roasted chicken (which looked to be on the dry side), and I hesitated between sautéed mussels and the "Catch seafood stew." The waitress opined that it was "excellent, bouillabaisselike," but "bouillabaisselike" is rarely encouraging. It's not that I waste time or thought comparing an American bouillabaisse to the real thing, whatever that is (debates about what constitutes a real bouillabaisse are endless and ongoing), it's just that dishes aspiring to bouillabaisse are so rarely successful on their own merits. I've had four or five vaguely bouillabaisse-y dishes in the past three months, and only one was truly delicious -- a stew of clams, mussels, and sausage at Zuni, where the properly saffron-infused, punchy broth had the courage of its convictions.
Courage was lacking tonight: My stew was generous in its contents (firm chunks of white-fleshed fish, shrimp, mussels, and tiny clams), but timid in its seasoning. Ron's big slab of fish was thoughtlessly overcooked, and the romesco sauce and green beans were much like those I'd sampled on the previous visit, though the crusty little roasted red potatoes it came with were far nicer than the polenta I'd tried before.
This night the dessert list seemed much less Italianate; in fact, the only Italian dessert was the panna cotta. We laughed when our huge plates arrived, with our desserts dwarfed by exuberantly applied swirls and stripes of red coulis and chocolate sauce. The décor was much more than the chewy chocolate terrine with raspberry sorbet and the stack of dry génoise, thick custard, and sliced banana masquerading as banana cream cake deserved. We hadn't been caught by Catch, and were now released.