If you've never thought of having a party for seafood, you've never visited Market Street Grill.

This Utah-grown group of four restaurants is, hands down, the best place in the state to indulge in seafood. To wallow in seafood.

And, of course, to celebrate seafood. Now (February) happens to be the crab festival. In April and May, it will be time to celebrate halibut. Summertime is for wild Alaska salmon, and fall (October and November) is shrimp-festival time.

I get the need for these attention-getting events in land-locked Utah. For lots of us, frozen fish sticks, "Krab" salad and a plate of overcooked salmon at an office Christmas party sum up our experience with the fruits of the ocean. Unlike in places such as Hawaii or coastal California, seafood just isn't part of our mentality in the same way as, say, Dutch oven.

Sure, we've changed in the past couple of decades. The popularity of fish tacos and the rise of home barbecuing as a gourmet sport have broadened our piscatory horizons a bit. But step into any Market Street restaurant, and prepare for the mental shutters to swing wide.

First, no matter which one you visit, you'll walk into a gorgeous dining space. Downtown, in the historic New York building, has a jazzy, elegant air; University an intimate, barrel-ceilinged dining space. Cottonwood and South Jordan, the newest member of the family, share an atmosphere of dark wood and lustrously lucent surfaces that give me the feeling of being in the world's most swanky swimming pool.

But instead of smelling chlorine, you catch whiffs of herbs, butter, garlic, lemon. And you see, in gleaming (but separate) glass cases, fresh for-sale seafood and Market Street's house-made desserts, displayed like the jewels they are.

My husband, our friend, Wendy, and I dined at the South Jordan location on a recent Saturday, arriving just as the place opened at 4 p.m. This is because, on the other occasions we've tried visiting the place on a weekend evening, say at 6:30 p.m. or so, the place is absolutely packed. Take my advice: make reservations, or come early.

I've written about Market Street before, so I'll just briefly mention the things I always enjoy there: the slices of crusty bread that zoom to the table almost as soon as diners sit down; the silky clam chowder, best I've had, full of the complex mingled flavors of leeks, bay, sherry and clam; the filet mignon, whose fork-tender texture and gorgeous sear prove seafood isn't the only thing they know how to make here.

It being the crab festival, we started with the crab-stuffed mushrooms. That's what they're called, and that's what they are: fat white mushrooms, basking in melted butter and hollowed out just enough to accommodate a scoop of strong, sea-tasting crab.

While my husband enjoyed his steak, served with creamy browned potatoes au gratin, Wendy was discovering the joys of the ahi tuna. This Hawaiian fish, served just-seared, with a deep red interior, was given a lovely Asian flavor with sesame seeds and a softly aromatic soy-ginger sauce.

I stayed with crab-stuffed shrimp. I expected them to taste like the mushrooms, but they were totally different. For one thing, there was more "stuffing" than shrimp, and this is a good thing: big, butterflied shrimp, wrapped around fat miniature crab cakes with a gently browned outside. With it was a bouquet of romanesca, spiky green (and delicious) punk-rock cauliflower.

We shared two desserts, a mountain of dense, multilayered chocolate cake and, my favorite, the simple and sophisticated vanilla ice cream with fresh berries and light-golden sabayon sauce.

Dinner: Fresh shellfish $10.99/half dozen and $19.99/dozen, seafood cocktails and appetizers $4.99-$13.99, salads $9.99-$19.99, fried seafood $12.99-$19.99, specials $17.99, pasta $14.99, entrees $19.99-$46.99, kids' meals $5, desserts $5.99-$6.99.

Market Street Grill

Rating: *** 1/2

Where: 10702 S. River Front Pkwy., South Jordan (other locations at 48 W. Market; 260 S. 1300 East; and 2895 E. Cottonwood Pkwy.)

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; 5-10 p.m.

Friday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; 5-10:30 p.m.

Saturday, 4-10:30 p.m.

Sunday, 4-9 p.m. (brunch 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m.)

Payment: Major credit cards accepted; no checks

Phone: 302-2262

Web: www.gastronomyinc.com

Wheelchair access: Easy; watch for stairs in several locations

Also: Reservations accepted; takeout and fresh fish and desserts available at most locations

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News.

E-mail: [email protected]