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Fish on its Laurels

Gaido's in Galveston doesn't always live up to its storied reputation

Tampico never runs out of red snapper, so what's Gaido's problem? And no crabmeat entrées in the middle of crab season at a seafood restaurant that specializes in the stuff? That's like a steak house telling you they are out of steak. I wanted to get up and leave. But Edge had traveled too far to give up.

He asked what fish was available today.

Salmon, halibut, swordfish, mahimahi and tuna, the waitress told us. So much for the local seafood gospel. Gaido's is evidently getting their groceries from the same Sysco truck as everybody else.

The crab cakes are a better bet than the fish of the day.
Troy Fields
The crab cakes are a better bet than the fish of the day.

Location Info

Map

Gaido's

3802 Seawall Blvd.
Galveston, TX 77550

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Galveston

Details

Hours: 11:45 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11:45 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Shrimp bisque: $5.99
Crab cakes: $9.99
Lump crabmeat appetizer: $23.99
Red snapper Wade: $27.99
Shrimp salad (small): $8.99

3800 Seawall Boulevard, Galveston, 409-762-9625.

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"Is that salmon from around here?" Edge wisecracked.

The waitress didn't get the joke. She seemed to have no idea where salmon and halibut come from. When we asked her if any of the fish were local, she didn't know. So we sent her to the kitchen. When she came back, she said the swordfish, tuna, and mahimahi (known around here as dolphinfish) were from the Gulf.

Then we asked her about the various preparations. She was clueless. She didn't know which dishes contained which ingredients, and she didn't know who Wade Watkins or any of the other namesake chefs were. When we pointed to the portrait of Watkins hanging on the wall, she confessed that she had been at the restaurant for only three weeks. She lived in Texas City and hoped to escape to Austin someday soon, never to return.

When I asked her if she recommended the St. Veran or the Meursault on the White Burgundy section of the wine list, she admitted she had never heard of White Burgundy before. I asked if there was someone in the restaurant who could recommend wines; she didn't know who that would be.

We got the Meursault, and at $38 it was quite a bargain. For appetizers, we sampled some shrimp Sapporito. The cracker crumbs didn't get very crispy in the butter, and the whole thing had a soggy consistency that wasn't very appealing. We also tried the crab cakes, and they were outstanding. The two large inch-high patties had very little besides crabmeat inside; they were covered with bread crumbs, fried and served piping hot.

Edge ordered the dolphinfish cooked Wade-style with a crabmeat topping, and it was wonderful. The fish was very fresh and much milder and flakier than any mahimahi I remember, and the unobtrusive seasoned flour coating and lemon juice spritz let the flavors of the seafood shine through. But it was the huge pile of succulent butter-soaked crabmeat on top of the fish that was the real star.

I got swordfish on a grilled seafood platter that also included scallops and shrimp. Swordfish is one of my favorites, especially when it's grilled so that the interior remains juicy and the edges are a little crisp. The thin swordfish steak I was served at Gaido's wasn't overcooked -- in fact, it was pink in the middle. But around the edges, the fish was dry. It had none of the juiciness I expect from swordfish. As I chewed, it took on the texture of wood pulp. I would guess that it was previously frozen. It wasn't worth eating.

The scallops were awful. Instead of the expensive dry-pack scallops that taste nutty and have a firm texture, Gaido's appears to be serving scallops that are soaked in chemicals to extend shelf life and retain moisture. They cook these on a grill so thick with char that the scallops develop a dingy gray color and taste like old barbecue pit grease. The shrimp were overdone and dry. I pushed the platter away uneaten.

At the table across from us, three women had attempted to eat their dinners while keeping two small children entertained. When they left, the carpet was thick with cracker crumbs that never got swept up. As we looked over the desserts, three beer-drinking guys in golf shirts and blue jeans took over the table. They each loudly described their marital situations to the waitress -- evidently they hoped she would care.

Edge had his notebook out and his pen in hand. He looked over the scene and commented on the cracker crumbs on the carpet and the loud-mouthed old boys in the polo shirts at the next table.

"It feels like a gone-to-seed country club," he said of Gaido's atmosphere. And as for the food, the cooks in this kitchen are just "going through the motions," he observed.

Is Gaido's a restaurant that specializes in local Gulf seafood as claimed on its Web site? Or is it another generic seafood restaurant that serves the same frozen halibut and swordfish they eat in Peoria? Is it a classic with traditions like the old restaurants in New Orleans? Or is it a bad imitation of Landry's?

Evidently, everything depends on which day you stop by.

I wish I could have eaten at Gaido's in its golden era, when Wade Watkins was in charge of the kitchen. I bet the restaurant had some standards back then.

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