When seafood is good, it can be divine: boiled crabs, raw oysters, fish chowder. And when it's bad, it's really bad: chewy mollusks, odiferous fish. Seafood rarely falls somewhere in the middle.
It's either fresh or it's not, and I get it: We're in Wisconsin. A few topnotch restaurants fly in their seafood catch. Elsewhere, compromises must be made due to geography.
But a little mindful preparation can go a long way, especially since many creatures that end up on seafood menus are the bottom-dwelling, sand-swilling, filter feeders that need a little gussying up anyway before they make for good eating.
I'll cut Las Islas Del Mar some slack. A lot of its seafood was obviously frozen, but this is what many places have to do if they're a casual establishment trying to offer consumers affordable dishes.
The dining room isn't fancy, but there is plenty of seating. Though service can be slow, the servers are friendly and our requests were met amiably.
The bar offers a lot of fruity, tropical drinks. In such a setting, I'm a margarita-on-the-rocks kinda gal, as I think this drink stands as a litmus test. I'd stick with the blended ones here. The ill-proportioned drink I got was mostly margarita mix.
The nonalcoholic Jamaica, on the other hand, was delicious. It's a cranberry-colored drink made of steeped hibiscus flowers - a satisfying summer quencher. Or chug a horchata, also solid here.
The seafood menu is hit or miss.
The grilled mussels were on the tough side. They come in the shell; the adductor muscle - which is what anchors the insides to the shell - was still attached. There is a bit of cumin-heavy broth, but slurping these babies is sloppy. Detach, then swallow.
Crab legs are one of the pricier items on the menu. Crab is by far my favorite seafood, so I'm easier to please in this arena - I'll even eat imitation crab. This crab turned me off with its odor. Some of the shells were soggy, and the pieces weren't scrubbed well. I found algae on multiple joints, which also wafts up and flavors the broth. The crab came in the same sauce as the mussels, and I wonder if it was to disguise the flavor of the crab itself. Pass.
The whole fried snapper also suffered from poor grooming. While scales aren't going to hurt anyone, they're the last thing you want to be picking out of your teeth during a meal. Most fish come scaled, but this is kind of a quick-and-dirty version. Scaled fish almost always need to be scaled again before cooking, and such was the case with the snapper. It looked like it might have been taken out of the box in which it came and dunked right in the batter. I left most of the fish untouched because of the scales, and the flesh was scored all the way down to the ribs (way too deep; it results in overcooked meat as the fish loses all the juiciness that the skin is designed to hold in).
The garlic shrimp is fairly basic and may be a good selection for those who don't want spice. The shrimp that night were small, similar to 100-count shrimp. For the price of that dish, the shrimp better look like the catch, not the bait.
The fish tacos were a better option. Toppings were abundant; the corn tortillas were warm. The fish pieces are rather small, and about half breading, but they passed.
Actually it was the chicken fajitas that came out in the lead. Of course fajitas always make a dramatic entrance, but this dish is something I'd order again. The bell peppers were still al dente (a good thing in my book), and the chicken sizzled in a mild peppery sauce.
The portion sizes at Las Islas Del Mar are quite large. One entrée might even feed two people.
There are no vegetarian entrees, although our server said the kitchen could probably come up with a substitute.
Las Islas del Mar may be one of those places seafood fans will enjoy, but I will probably stick to the landlubber selections. Luckily the menu is expansive, and there are a lot of options.