If there’s a local restaurant row that can give Gloucester’s Main Street a run for its money, it’s Washington Street in Haverhill’s industrial-chic Shoe District. Inviting, out-of-the-ordinary dining spots, one after another, have colonized the restored brick storefronts on the Merrimack River’s north bank.
One of the latest worth-a-trip restaurants to open in the neighborhood is the Blue Finn Grille. Yes, it’s “finn,’’ as in Chad Finn, the restaurant’s owner-chef. (No, not the Globe sportswriter.) “This is an up-and-coming area, and I wanted to be a part of it,’’ he says. A Haverhill resident, Finn used to own North Andover’s Mango Grille. His new place has been open for three months.
The Blue Finn’s vibe is artsy and hip. We didn’t see the restaurant’s name anywhere out front, just a painted board hanging over the sidewalk showing a blue shark fin poking out of the water. The dining room is smallish and old-fashioned, with large arched windows in front and a small bar in back. (The space used to be occupied by George’s, which has moved down the block to the old
As befits a restaurant that specializes in seafood, an ocean theme accents the decor, including modern sculptures that reminded us of mussels, and a stained-glass window above the bar that makes you feel like you’re underwater looking up.
We ordered things we hadn’t tried before, which wasn’t hard. Grilled lettuce, anyone? We passed up the garden salad in favor of flash-grilled romaine hearts ($8) with a chipotle ranch dressing. Somehow the lettuce was both warm and crisp; a cooking time of 90 seconds will do that. And we’d heard about the crab-cake appetizer ($12), pan-seared lump meat drizzled with wasabi and red-pepper aioli. The cakes were both moist and light-textured, and not too spicy.
Best of all was the “sticky ribs’’ appetizer ($11), tender and extremely meaty spare ribs in a spicy-sweet sauce. The ribs were neatly arranged with small cubes of cantaloupe and honeydew melon with diced scallion — not things we would have thought of combining — plus a little cilantro, red onion, and lime.
Our server said some diners assume the melon salsa is just an ornamental garnish and skip it. That’s a big mistake, we agreed. Our server, by the way, was extremely attentive. When we asked him about the ingredients in the melon salsa, he came back from the kitchen with a long, handwritten list.
The menu isn’t long, but it’s bigger than it looks, because one of the seafood offerings is a variably priced “create your own’’ dish: your choice of fish, spices, and two side dishes.
Going with the restaurant’s maritime theme, we picked two fish entrées from the menu. The pineapple-chili-glazed salmon ($21) was sweet, pink, and yummy. In addition to a topping of melon salsa, the salmon came with hot wilted spinach and a sweet-potato pancake, both of which were delicious.
The seared tuna ($23), sushi-rare on the inside, is prepared with a crust of coconut and Japanese-style panko bread crumbs. The fish was tasty and fresh, but the thin, rather nondescript crust didn’t really do it justice.
The Blue Finn’s version of Key lime pie ($8) is topped with whipped cream and shreds of toasted coconut; it was fabulous.
It wasn’t just us who loved this place, we heard other diners oohing and aahing too. All in all, Blue Finn Grille is a welcome new find in a city with more than its share of overlooked gems.
COCO McCABE and DOUG STEWART