One of the thrills of sport fishing in the Gulf is the potential for a delicious surprise any time something takes your bait. The diversity of fish out there is vast, and you never know just what you will reel in.
That's a little like dining at GW Fins, a first-class seafood restaurant where the menu changes significantly each day, based on what chef Tenney Flynn secures from his array of dockside sources. It's not simply a matter of swapping such familiar fare as trout meuniere for catfish amandine. Rather, the selections — and his kitchen's smart preparations — are as varied as grilled escolar with a light pineapple and basil glaze, meaty redfish crusted with pumpkin seeds, or glistening disks of wahoo, seared but still raw on the inside, topped with wasabi. In this way, the whole menu functions as a daily specials list, and there might be a dozen such entrees on any given night.
Flynn and his business partner Gary Wollerman (the "GW" behind the deceptively chainesque restaurant name) have been at this for 10 years now. Both previously held corporate positions at Ruth's Chris Steak House, and their idea was to create an upscale restaurant as focused on fine seafood as Ruth's Chris is on steak.
They turned heads immediately by serving fish few other New Orleans restaurants stocked, and this is still a good place to look for such locally rare treats as Dover sole or whole roasted bronzini. But most of the fish here have far shorter journeys. They often arrive whole, ready to be butchered in-house, and one way to plan your dinner is to scan Facebook for photos of chef du cuisine Michael Nelson posing with fish that could be trophies mounted on lodge walls. A Facebook update might also reveal when Nelson will next prepare an excellent innovation he calls "scalibut" — a halibut steak fused with a golden-seared cap of scallops.
While entrees constantly change, appetizers rarely do. Practically all of them star seafood, with highlights like crab pot stickers in vivid green pools of pea shoot butter and whisperingly tender lobster dumplings. Smoked oysters doused with sputtering butter are also fantastic, but don't look for them until Louisiana oysters pick up again in the fall.
The large, intelligently assembled wine list is filled with moderately priced whites and many Pinot Noirs that pair beautifully with fish. Dozens of wines are available by the glass. While service is polished and personable enough one-on-one, it can take quite some time for waiters to orbit back to your table from the expanses of this large restaurant. The open, spacious setting is nice, especially when viewed from a padded booth as deep and cloistered as a theater box, though the design feels a bit dated. This dining room could be in any city where old warehouse spaces have been repurposed as swank restaurants.
But what really matters is on the plate, and GW Fins could not be just anywhere. This is a New Orleans original that manages to break the local mold while giving a better measure of the depth and quality of our local seafood abundance.