Fresh finned fare

Everyone at our table was oohing and aahing over the food at McCormick & Schmick's.

All were happy, whether slip-sliding simple raw oysters or savoring the most fussy presentation, such as my cashew-crusted mahi mahi sweetened with Jamaica rum butter and a salsa of mango and red bell peppers.

The seafood restaurant prides itself in very fresh fish, which is delivered twice a day from around the world. The menu is printed twice daily, with an impressive list of more than 30 fresh-catch offerings.

Among our party of seven, we enjoyed summer ice oysters from British Columbia, Malpeque oysters from Prince Edward Island, mahi mahi from Ecuador, Chilean sea bass from Peru, halibut from Alaska, Atlantic salmon from Maine, ahi tuna from Hawaii, catfish from Mississippi and rainbow trout from North Carolina.

McCormick & Schmick's is an upscale chain that originated in Oregon; the Michigan outpost, opened in February, is the 32nd location.

The setting is posh, with beveled glass windows set into the mahogany paneling. Little booths, called "snugs," seat six and can be shut off with velvet curtains.

Floor manager Dustin Adams, who came from Oregon to help launch the new restaurant, says owners Bill McCormick and Doug Schmick are gregarious guys who started as bartenders and like to schmooze the crowd. "They're very clear what they're trying to do with the concept," he commented. He mentioned that they went to great lengths to get the curvy, old-fashioned Coke bottles.

As Adams describes it, everything is orchestrated, from the noisy dining rooms (think energy) with high ceilings and lots of hard surfaces for the noise to bounce off, to the friendly waitstaff, coached to chat up the customers and discouraged from using hushed voices.

The service is accommodating. When I requested a substitute for the asparagus that came with my dinner, our server said brightly, "I know what I can get you!" It was a lovely stir-fry of spinach, mushrooms and artichoke hearts.

The day before, the co-diner and I had a more intimate dinner. We loved our appetizer of littleneck clams. Not much bigger than a thumbnail, doused with garlic and shallots, they were loaded with flavor. The seafood-and-corn chowder was also delicious, as was the oyster stew we tried the next night.

Salads get fussy attention, and you won't get iceberg lettuce unless you order the one (out of seven) listed as such. I had mixed field greens with cherry vinaigrette and goat cheese, crusted with crushed pistachios ($7.40). Unfortunately, the greens were wilting under the heavy dressing by the time they got to the table.

My entrée that night was disappointing. No problem with the pan-fried Pacific yearling oysters ($13.80) which were plump and delicate, but they were supposed to be served with fries, coleslaw and tartar sauce. The coleslaw had the requisite cabbage and carrot shreds, but no dressing, and there was neither tartar sauce nor lemon. I had to wonder how that plate got out of the kitchen.

Desserts were all rich and classic. A three-berry cobbler and chocolate truffle pie got raves from our group.

Call early for a reservation. When I called for a reservation early this summer I was told nothing was available for three weeks! You only need a week's notice on weekdays, less if you eat early or late.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].