By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 13, 2007 at 5:12 AM

Milwaukee is awash in upscale chain eateries all of a sudden, thanks especially to new space opening up at Bayshore Town Center and Brookfield Square. The latest arrival is Mitchell’s Fish Market, in Brookfield Square.

The 7,255-sq. ft. upscale casual restaurant -- adorned with tiling and signage that conjures the classic old fish markets of the coasts -- is part of the same group that recently opened Cameron’s Steakhouse at Bayshore. An 800-sq. ft. patio is open weather permitting.

Chain dining is nothing new at malls and we should rejoice that the quality of these restaurants is on the rise. As long as you’ve got the money and the time, the food court and a family sit-down burger joint are not the only options anymore.

Price and quality intersect at a pleasant point at Mitchell’s. At a preview event Thursday, two dined at lunchtime, ordering the equivalent of a dinner off the dinner menu -- two entrees, a shared appetizer, one salad and a cup of soup with two strawberry lemonades -- for under $60.

Because the food was of high quality and the service as attentive as at any fine dining restaurant in Milwaukee, that’s a good deal.

Blackened scallops were juicy and seared but rare and grilled halibut nearly crumbled at the touch of a fork. Both were served with fresh steamed vegetables and a starch (one with jambalaya rice and the other with mashed potatoes).

The crab meat and asparagus dip was laced with three kinds of cheese and piled high with chunk crab meat creating a dish that was sinfully rich.

In addition to appetizers, salads (all of which looked good as they went past the table and the one we sampled -- spinach and pear with blue cheese and a sherry vinaigrette -- was delicious) and a variety of seafood bisques and chowders, the Mitchell menu has two main sections.

Chefs Specialties with a range of fish and shellfish served over pasta or crusted with pecans or in a fish ‘n’ chips plate. Today’s Fresh Catch lists a dozen or more fresh fish -- tilapia, halibut, scallops, swordfish, mahi mahi, etc. -- and allows diners to select from four preparations: blackened, grilled, broiled or Shang Hai (steamed with ginger and scallions). Side dishes are matched to the preparations.

There is also an oyster bar with four varieties on ice and sampler trays are available.

As in most upscale chains these days, the kitchen at Mitchell’s is partially open to the dining room, which is done up in model schooners and maritime maps and red mahogany trim. On one end is the bar, adorned with framed semaphore signal flags. The atmosphere is bustling and alive, like at a good fish market, and more conducive to a family night out or a dinner with friends than a romantic meal for two.

The wash rooms are stocked with mouthwash, stain removing wipes, dental floss and lint rollers, adding to the perception of being a customer-focused fine dining establishment.

Like all the new seafood places in town, Mitchell’s makes sure its servers tell you early on that all the fish is flown in daily and we have no reason to doubt it -- other than the prices -- since the ones we sampled were fresh and delicious.

Milwaukee has never been known as a seafood town and strictly seafood eateries have had a long swim upstream here. Only a few -- Crawdaddy’s and Moceans spring to mind – have managed to make a long-term go of it.

Perhaps the chains -- with their buying power and leverage -- are actually able to keep Milwaukee swimming in fresh fish, something that can prove excessively cost prohibitive to an independent restaurant, especially one that aims to focus on the treasures of the distant oceans. That might not be great news for some local restaurateurs, but it will be good news to local seafood lovers.
 

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.