PassionFish, the latest offering from Jeff Tunks’s Passion Food restaurant group and the newest addition to Reston Town Center, is surprisingly understated given its pedigree. No soaring mermaids à la DC Coast, no shiny pagodas or life-size Buddhas as at TenPenh. Instead, the seafood emporium’s touches are more subtle—fishtail knives and forks, chandeliers that call to mind oceanic bubbles, sweeping curves of iridescent tile.
The sprawling piscine menu will sound familiar if you’ve visited Passion Food’s other restaurants. The gumbo, which has an almost mole-like complexity, recalls Louisiana-inspired Acadiana, the Yucatán shrimp ceviche is straight out of the recipe book of the Nuevo Latino spot Ceiba, and the red curry with pineapple that shows off curls of butter-poached lobster is cribbed from TenPenh.
The most successful dishes are PassionFish’s alone. Fried oysters are dabbed with tarragon aïoli and set atop cool ribbons of apple. A Parmesan-crusted dip, inspired by clams casino, had us tearing through a baguette to get the last bits. And a simply roasted whole branzino with Meyer lemon becomes a standout with a slathering of herb-packed green sauce.
When the kitchen errs, it’s usually on the side of excess. Thin slices of raw hamachi get lost under grapefruit, green-tea-smoked salt, and jalapeños. Seared scallops are big and meaty, but you hardly notice them under a blanket of veal jus and doughy cavatelli. And tuna tataki, liberally coated with a Japanese seven-spice blend and drizzled with spicy Sriracha rémoulade, is so fiery that you can barely taste anything else.
Service at other Passion Food restaurants tends to be briskly efficient. Here it’s warmer and sometimes goes beyond expectations: When a server noticed our guest fanning her mouth from the tataki, he returned with a glass of cold milk.
PassionFish, 11960 Democracy Dr., Reston; 703-230-3474. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. Appetizers $5 to $18, main courses $19 to $29.
This review appears in the January, 2009 issue of The Washingtonian.