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Chain champ 

Bonefish still stands out.

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We are intensely loyal to local enterprises, particularly where restaurants are concerned. The great news is that with the explosion of outstanding locally owned and operated eateries in our area, we never go hungry. And we never have to go to chains.

But we do on very rare occasions, and as often as not the chain we choose is Bonefish Grill. We know Bonefish is owned by Outback, a restaurant for which our disdain knows no bounds. (What is grosser in concept and reality than a grease-soaked bloomin' onion?) Bonefish, however, does lots of things right, and that's why the West Little Rock restaurant stays packed about every minute it is open.

It was a logical choice for a recent family birthday lunch for eight with very different palates. We're glad we made reservations, even for a 6 p.m. dinner, because we were by no means the first ones there. And there was a throng of people waiting for a table by the time we left.

We start where seemingly everyone does at Bonefish — with Bang Bang Shrimp ($10.70). Whoever dreamed up this dish must be in the chain restaurant hall of fame, and even locals sometimes try to copy it. The spicy/sweet sauce on the firm, meaty shrimp was really something special. Even fellow diners who didn't think they liked shrimp, or spicy dishes, scarfed down some Bang Bangs.

Three of our party did what we never would, ordering steak at a seafood restaurant. (And you won't find us getting salmon at Sonny Williams' Steak Room either.) But they declared their filets ($21.90 for 6 ounces, $25.10 for 8, both coming with two sides) excellently tender and flavorful.

Two others were even more delighted with their entree choice, Tilapia Imperial ($20.30, also with two sides). This large fillet of succulent white fish is stuffed with three stars of seafood: shrimp, scallops and crabmeat, improved even more by a serious shot of lemon caper butter.

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Our salmon fan spoke highly of her generous slab of fish, served on a wood plank ($18.10). We chose the ahi tuna sashimi ($12.30 small, $18.90 large). This one is on the starters section of the menu, and the small portion was ample as an entree. It was nicely seared and the sesame-seed coating, the soy, the potent wasabi and pickled ginger provided all the taste variation you could want.

The eight available side items were pretty predictable but uniformly well prepared and presented. The cheesy potatoes au gratin and just-garlicky-enough garlic mashed potatoes were the stars. The steamed broccoli, fries and coleslaw were a step behind.

Each of the six desserts was compelling, but we were headed home for birthday cake so we had to pass on those.

Bonefish is a loud, bustling place, and not the setting for private or intimate conversation. But it's fun, it's lively, and the servers are friendly and attentive. And the food, though chain-generated, is consistently good.

Bonefish Grill
11525 Cantrell Road
228-0356
bonefishgrill.com/locations/ar/little-rock

QUICK BITE

Many local restaurants could learn from Bonefish Grill in planning and executing a comprehensive wine list with broad selections across a broad price range. The reserve list is superb, and the prices are reasonable.

HOURS

4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

OTHER INFO

You can make reservations for parties of 5 or fewer online. All credit cards accepted, full bar.

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