“He turned a junky seafood shack into a George Perrier on 20th,” said Don Golberg, long-time patron and friend of Seafood Unlimited owner David Einhorn.
Seafood Unlimited, located at 270 S. 20th St., has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Now, the “junky seafood shack” is a raw bar, fish market and restaurant. Its classic philosophy on service has gained the restaurant citywide success.
Garbed in a black apron, Einhorn humbles himself to rounded checks of every aspect of his business, making sure that everything is to everyone’s liking – and his staff follows suit.
Einhorn’s parents ran the place before him. Their customer base consisted mostly of friends of the family and loyal patrons occasioned by community members. After graduating from the restaurant management program of the University of Denver, Einhorn worked in hospitality in Pueblo, Colo., finally returning to Philadelphia to run the old family business.
The seating arrangement years back had guests eating elbow-to-elbow, which encouraged conversation through the involuntary intimacy. Now the seating is more sectionalized but remains close so that guests can still partake in each other’s mirth.
The décor is not intended to wow anyone: the dining room walls are textured and painted dual-toned with eggshell white on one wall and red on the other. Mind you, this does not mediocritize the experience in the slightest. Those looking for pizzazz should probably look elsewhere, but those who desire cozy warmed with the familiar comforts of home should look no further.
There is, however, an Isaiah Zagar mural showcased behind the bar: a tide of algae greens tenuously coursing with brown and black detritus amidst the smatterings of mirror fragments, as if one were caught in the verdant undercurrent of river. Etched along the right side is Einhorn’s 9-year-old daughter’s name, Eden Skye.
If you’re a fan of happy hour, theirs lasts from 5 p.m. until close, featuring $5 bar appetizers, $2.50 lagers and $5 drink specials like the SEPTA Bus, Lemontini and Key Lime Pie.
Their fish market houses a well-rounded harem of 13 types of fish, mollusk and crustacean, which constitute the backbone of the menu along with a few mainland dishes.
And a truly rare service: you can call the night before or day of and ask for a fish to be reserved, or even request for something not usually in stock, and they will do everything within reason to have it there and prepared to your liking upon arrival.
While the larger dishes are generously portioned, the more modest items are executed with the kind of artistry found in upscale French bistros.
There was the Seared Scallop Special, a product of the chef’s whimsy: three seared sea diver scallops distributed over a cylindrical substratum of baby mixed greens, tomatoes and purple onion, lightly tossed in lemon-thyme vinaigrette flecked with toasted sesame seeds. The light caress of the vinaigrette perfectly accentuated the delicate flavors of the scallops.
There was the ahi tuna appetizer: an entanglement of thinly sliced cucumber and carrot supported the high-rise of ginger root and tuna plumed at the top, all of which was surrounded by a mote of sweet teriyaki vinaigrette and roasted sesame seeds – and yes, it tastes as good as it sounds.
There was the broiled salmon, also of the chef’s whimsy: an 8-ounce portion of salmon broiled with fresh seasonings on a stack of tortilla chips and black bean corn salsa. While the salmon arrived a tad overcooked, the sweet acidity of the salsa moistened to the crisp tortilla chips created a pleasing medley of contrasting elements.
There was the tuna teriyaki: a tuna steak served over a bed of white rice crowned by a chop suey of bok choy, red bell peppers, onions and string beans, coated in a sweet teriyaki glaze. The tuna did not come out rare as requested, but the tenderly cooked veggies diverted my attention.
And then there was the dessert: a delectable hunk of pumpkin bread pudding drizzled with decadent caramel syrup. After my first bite, the critic in me jumped off a cliff as I unbridled my senses to indulge, making sure not to slake away the flavor with the copious cup of coffee provided.
Patrons feel comfortable offering their opinion, for they know their discontent, no matter how small, will be righted immediately or guaranteed upon return. I noted a number of customers voicing criticisms as well as compliments before departing. Upon my departure, I was convinced that it was Einhorn’s mission that no one goes without.
Aaron Stella can be reached at email@example.com.