Photos by Nicholas Karlin, Words by Brandon Wetherbee
Best if: you’re craving the finest fried food in the saddest fancy address
FISH is fantastic. I want to make that perfectly clear. José Andrés’ MGM National Harbor restaurant is everything you want in a ThinkFoodGroup spot. It’s large and bright and beautiful with enough seating for large groups. The food is clean and bright and beautiful. Did I say beautiful? It’s beautiful in every way. Now the negative.
FISH is in the MGM National Harbor. The new casino is large and impressive. It’s on par with Vegas. The $1.4 billion dollar building is massive. Is that good? Do you like Vegas? I do not like Vegas. But I do like FISH.
We sampled the restaurant within a restaurant. At the end of the seafood bar is a five-seat bar for diners to watch chefs do their thing. They’re currently presenting the Maryland Fry Bar Experience.
There are three ways to enjoy the Maryland Fry Bar Experience, a la cart, The Classics ($40) or The José Way ($50). If you’re going to do this, and you should do this, go with The José Way. $50 per person includes nearly everything offered on the menu. The two hour experience is an ideal length for a date with someone you actually like. It may be the cheapest nice date at any ThinkFoodGroup restaurant that’s not happy hour.
The Fry Bar isn’t a typical fish fry. You probably already knew that. You will not leave smelling like you spent a Friday in a church basement eating cod and chips. You will enjoy foods from nearby waters in ways you never expected.
The highlight of the meal wasn’t fish. The maitake mushroom cannot be improved. Served with yogurt with thyme, it’s incredibly simple and unlike any other mushroom you’ve ever enjoyed from a fryer. It’s also featured on The José Way menu, not The Classics. Once again, spend the extra $10.
Other highlights include the lucky shuck oysters, California avocado, spicy big eye tuna tartar and quail eggs with Johnston County Reserve Ham and caviar. The meal ends with a grapefruit and honey. It’s an excellent way to end a fried meal.
If FISH wasn’t in a casino it wouldn’t have a 40 foot ceiling or a floor the emulates the land meeting the water. It also might not be able to attract a crowd from people around the world every night of the week. Unlike his other D.C. area restaurants, this place isn’t really for neighborhood diners. It may be the only DMV restaurant they’ll enjoy. It’s difficult to rationalize someone interested in the D.C. dining scene not willing to travel 11 miles to downtown D.C. but it may be possible. I’m getting too distracted. This isn’t supposed to be about casinos but it’s impossible to divorce the restaurant from the casino.
The MGM is beautiful. It’s new and sleek and clean and now. I might go back for the upcoming Cher shows because Cher is this country’s greatest patriot. And if I do I’ll eat at FISH by José Andrés, a restaurant from another great patriot. The venue and restaurant are under the same, very large casino roof. The gaming in casinos makes me sad (There’s a large Breaking Bad themed slot machine not too far from the restaurant and I can’t rationalize who this game is for. Breaking Bad fans know how the series ends (Spoiler Alert: Not well!) and people not familiar with the television show see a desperate old man and a desperate young man in a desert. Who wants to play a game based on desperation? Is it the best themed slot machine? It’s very large and hard to ignore. Am I thinking about this too much? Have I been thinking about this everyday since visiting the casino? Yes and yes.). Cher makes me happy. FISH made me happy. If there’s an event that’ll help outweigh the sad, I’ll be visiting FISH again.