Bordering the northeast corner of Saratoga, the redundantly named Westgate West mall in San Jose is now home to the first Northern California location of Slapfish. Dubbing itself a “modern seafood shack,” the restaurant is part of a national chain that hopes to win over the good people of Silicon Valley. It has some work to do.

The employees at this particular franchise did get the company memo on going out of their way to be helpful. But despite their extra-friendly efforts, every item that we tried was universally disappointing.

Remember that Maya Angelou quotation: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” That message also applies to the poke bowl. The description on the menu reads, “Only the freshest tuna poke, seasoned rice, chips and greens.” The freshest tuna was bland and flavorless because that’s “only” what it was. You could, of course, jazz it up with hot sauce, tartar sauce, soy sauce—any and all manner of sauces, really—but we were puzzled at the lack of a baseline seasoning.

Perhaps the people at Slapfish want customers to taste the pure essence of the tuna. But if you’re going to attempt to compete with poke-only shops, your version ought to be mighty tasty. Otherwise, why bother to line your hook with bait?

From the enlarged photographs on the wall menu overhead, you can see that Slapfish prides itself on the variety of ways the cooks can wrestle with clawed lobsters. The options range from taquitos, a traditional sandwich roll, a grinder with shrimp and crab or a “clobster” grilled cheese. The latter is reportedly a “melting mix of lobster, crab and a creamy herb sauce.” I go through phases where lobster sounds like the most appealing shellfish I’d ever want to plunder from the deep blue sea. And then, on bad days, I can’t get the dinner table scene in Beetlejuice out of my mind. That’s the one in which “Day-O (Banana Boat Song)” plays while the giant prawns attack the dinner guests. On the day I visited Slapfish, the vivid pictures of bulbous crustacean meat brought the movie right back to me, and I concentrated on fish instead.

As you wait in line to order, you can scrutinize the kinds of fish they’re serving that day (poisson du jour) as written down on a tall block of butcher paper. I wanted a taco (but that is never not a true statement). Slapfish offers an ultimate fish taco ($7.50 + $2.50 extra for mahi-mahi) or a smaller street taco. I opted for the “giant two-handed fish taco with crispy cabbage, awesome sauce and pickled onion.” This was a wrap and not a taco. And no, the sauce was not awesome. After eating some and picking at the rest of it, I vowed never again to forsake the old reliable street taco for a fancy upstart offering extra frills.

By far the worst offender though was an order of fish and chips ($9.50). I got spoiled after having perfect batches of the stuff at Gott’s (the batter they use turns golden brown and perfectly crunchy every time). Slapfish missed the boat. The crust was the wrong shade of pale, crunchy as cotton and way too thick. The menu adds parenthetically that you could make this entrée into a sandwich. What you’d get is bread around breading. Don’t take the plunge. To increase my maritime sorrows, the chips or “real fries” were soggy, wilted and not dusted but gasping for air in a bright orange coating of spice. Two bites and I was done.

Thinking that a simpler item might yield better results, we tried a grilled fish bowl ($13, no extra charge for mahi-mahi). And, like the poke bowl, the fish was fine, unexceptional really, and very plain with “seasoned rice, herb sauce, hand-picked salad.” Was everything better prepared and a healthier family meal than a trip to a Ronald McDonald’s? Absolutely. Would I go out of my to eat one of their tacos over a return trip to one of my favorite taquerias or food trucks? Not for treasure down in Davy Jones’ Locker.

5297 Prospect Rd, San Jose