Our family was recently invited by Bonefish Grill to enjoy dinner at one of their restaurants near our home -- and to sample a wide range of items from their gluten-free menu, many of which we had never tried.
Whether or not you're gluten-free, if you like seafood, Bonefish should be on your restaurant radar. With over 150 locations in 28 states, there's likely one close to you -- or in a future travel destination. This is not your typical seafood restaurant...it's a bit more upscale, with an element of trendiness, but still casual. It's equally comfortable for couples and families, young and old. In fact, they seem to have a lot of "raving fans"...in 2010, they took four top honors in Zagat's Survey of National Chain Restaurants, including Top Food, Best Seafood, and Top Healthy Options.
We've been to a handful of Bonefish locations in several different states over the years and were thrilled to discover -- upon learning of our 2-year-old son's Celiac diagnosis in 2005 -- that they offered a gluten-free menu. In our area of Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, DC, they were among the first restaurant chains to offer gluten-free options. Remember, back in 2005, awareness of Celiac Disease among restauranteurs was not what it is today....
And, in fact, it is because we now have so many choices of where to dine gluten-free in our area that we hadn't eaten at a Bonefish in a while. Their kind invitation enabled us to sample many gluten free menu items we had never tried, as our sons typically order the same thing to share every time we go: the filet mignon. It's not that they don't like fish or seafood (they do)...but in their opinion, it's hard to beat a great steak! But this time we told them we were going to "branch out" a bit and see what else Bonefish had to offer!
Well, their list of GF offerings is impressive, to be sure: several appetizers, all their salads, 5 varieties of fish, shrimp, scallops, lobster, 2 steaks, a signature chicken dish, ample side dish options, and at least 2 wonderful desserts! Upon double-checking, the charming Managing Partner, Stephen, confirmed that many of the specials that night were also gluten-free. And if you're in the mood for a cocktail, Bonefish offers Redbridge gluten-free beer in addition to an extensive wine list and cocktail menu.
We started with the Mussels Josephine and Saucy Shrimp. Both were generous portions -- enough for 2 or 3 to share -- and had great flavors. I especially liked the mussels, and our younger son -- the one following a gluten-free diet -- did as well. They were served in a tomato, garlic, basil and lemon/wine sauce...just the right intensity of flavor. The Saucy Shrimp were also good, a very unique dish of shrimp served in a lime tomato garlic sauce with Kalamata olives and Feta. Sort of a Greek twist on shrimp, and very saucy. (That evening, they were also offering this as a main course, with the addition of scallops, too.)
We moved on to the salad course, trying the Caeser (minus the croutons, of course!) and the House Salad, which was dressed with a delicious citrus herb vinaigrette. Bonefish makes its salad dressings in-house, and they are all gluten-free.
We ordered a range of main courses and shared them all: the Chilean Sea Bass (one of their most popular selections, served with mango salsa), the Sea Scallops and Shrimp (we chose the lemon butter sauce with this), Lily's Chicken (another popular item on their menu), and yes...the Filet Mignon. The nice thing about Bonefish is that you can customize your fish or seafood with one of three gluten-free signature sauces (mango salsa, chimichurri, and lemon butter). Only their Pan Asian sauce is off-limits for the gluten-free, since it contains soy sauce (I did point out that there are now several gluten-free soy sauces available which they might want to consider using in their recipe).
All of our selections were delicious. I especially enjoyed the seabass combined with the delicious mango salsa, something I've enjoyed at Bonefish before. Our whole family loved Lily's Chicken, which is wood-grilled and topped with goat cheese, spinach, artichoke hearts, and a lemon basil sauce. What a great combination of flavors! The sea scallops were a decent size and cooked to perfection, and the filet mignon was cooked to our liking, tender, and flavorful (although we regretfully didn't opt to add the garlic gorgonzola butter on top, which in hindsight sounded wonderful!). Oh well...perhaps next time....There are 6 gluten-free sides to choose from, including garlic whipped potatoes, herbed Jasmine rice, and various vegetables. I really loved the rice...which seemed to have a hint of lime and had a wonderfully sticky texture.
The piece de resistance was indeed, dessert. (This should not come as a shock to anyone who has elementary-school-aged boys!) At the insistence of our server (and we didn't need much convincing!), we opted to try each of the three gluten-free options available: the Macadamia Nut Brownie, Creme Brulee, and Chocolate Creme Brulee with a hint of Grand Mariner (a special that evening).
Yes, this was certainly hardship duty, trying to decide on our favorite! The three males at the table, who initially pondered why there had to be macadamia nuts in the flourless brownie (they tend to be chocolate "purists," literally fought over the brownie once they each had their first biteful! The delicious vanilla ice cream and whipped cream provided the perfect balance to the rich, warm chocolate decadence. It is hard to say which of the two creme brulees were tastier, and I was thankful that our kids got to sample this wonderful dessert. It is often included on gluten-free menus, but they'd never tried before. I think they now appreciate the wonderful creamy-custard texture against the crunchy carmelized sugar topping and realize why mom was always suggesting they try it!
One other important note about Bonefish...they are a virtually nut-free restaurant. The only item currently containing nuts is the Macadamia Nut Brownie. They no longer use pine nuts in their house salad and removed the peanuts from their Pan Asian sauce.
I highly recommend this high-quality restaurant focused on fresh ingredients, wonderful flavors, and friendly service. This particular location of Bonefish in Ashburn, Virginia, has another great asset: its Managing Partner Stephen Cunningham, who was always circulating around the restaurant talking with guests, many of whom seemed to be regulars. Be sure to introduce yourself if you visit and let him know about any special dietary requests.