The restaurant's claim to fame is inexpensive seafood, apparently a case of convergent evolution with Mac-Groveland's Red Fish Blue, with seafood entrées at dinner priced from $12.95 for seafood linguine to $17.95 for sea bass. The best things I tasted were invariably scallop dishes, like the diver scallops ($13.95 at dinner, $12.95 at lunch) with green-olive risotto and a saffron emulsion sauce. They tasted buttery, a little smoky, a little more buttery--what's not to like?

Otherwise, the seafood and I couldn't quite make peace. Halibut ($16.95) simply dressed with herbs and olive oil was rubbery and overdone. A crisp cod cake ($13.95) with lobster was merely fluffy and bland. The worst was a marlin steak ($15.95) dressed with a warm pineapple sauce and crowned by onion rings. The evening I ordered it not only did my server forget the dish in the kitchen--someone else served the rest of the table entrées--but when I complained that the plate was ice-cold, the kitchen apparently reheated the same piece of fish. Eventually I was served a brick-hard slab of leathery marlin surrounded by a cloying pineapple sauce and topped by a too-sweet salsa.

There are a handful of non-fish dishes, and the best are served at lunch. I was really very impressed with the Tuscan salami sandwich ($7.95) a stack of tip-top quality ingredients such as peppery salami and fresh, tender slices of ricotta salata that I wished were available in some form at dinner. Garlic-parsley fries ($1.50 extra with sandwiches) are scrumptious--salty, spicy, and fresh, they're everything you want in a fry, with garlic! The sole reason I'd get the steak for dinner the next time I go to Three Fish is those fries. The rib eye with Gorgonzola demi-glace ($18.95) would probably be perfect with some of those wines, too.

I would never again get the grilled duck breast ($17.95), a chewy, uncomprehending rendition of the beloved bird. It's hard to even put my finger on all the things wrong with this poor duck: It was chewy, yes, but also oddly tasteless; even though it appeared rare it lacked any gamy, irony notes; the skin was, to the eye, crisply fried, yet doughy on the tongue; and the "maple-orange glaze" that filled the plate tasted strongly of soy sauce. The chunks of duck confit that speckled the plate were delicious. But then again you'd have to hold your nose and jump up and down thinking about Trent Lott's underwear for duck confit not to be delicious, no?

Desserts ($4.95-$5.50) were fine. At first I thought it was funny that the server offered "vanilla custard crème brûlée with a hard-sugar top, which you pierce with a spoon" but on second thought decided that was a fine way to welcome everyone into the tent. The raspberry-rhubarb tart is served as an orange-size ball of dough surrounding an egg-size bit of filling, which seemed odd the first time I got it, but I felt very let-bygones-be-bygones about it the second time. I don't know why. Maybe because they've got good coffee, and I never seemed to be able to spend more than $35 a head, even ordering way, way too much food and plenty of wine.

Or maybe because if you do this long enough, you start to see that different neighborhoods have different needs, and different restaurants different strengths, and when they mesh as perfectly as Three Fish and the west Calhoun area seem to, you and whatever feelings you have about strip malls matter as little as a dumpster full of hip.

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