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Posts from the ‘seafood’ Category

Lure Fishbar: A Seafood Lover’s Heaven, But Boy What a Scene

Lure Fishbar is an anomaly of sorts. It has been impossibly trendy for years, with a never-ending stream of supremely fashionable young ladies, tanned and slick older men, and cougars draped in fur; and yet, despite the at times overwhelming scene, it still turns out top-notch cocktails, flavorful food, and beautifully-executed sushi, all with warm and competent service.

Designed by the eponymous Serge Becker, the basement-level Lure Fishbar is gorgeous. The theme is nautical, but not in the cutesy New England marina with a lobster shack vein; instead, Lure Fishbar is designed like a mega-yacht with sparkling portholes for windows, gleaming wooden walls with circular golden lights, white lacquer accents, polished boat-deck flooring, and just a hint of the requisite blue and white. Circular booths coated in white leather face inward, allowing diners to gaze upon the bustling and glittering dining room. Up a half-level from the dining room is the darker bar area, with navy-and-white striped upholstered booths and a long bar, inevitably packed with groups of over-dressed women in their mid-30s and banker types.

Fittingly, seafood is the specialty at Lure Fishbar. The menu offers almost every imaginable type of mainstream seafood, from oysters on ice to raw bar specialties like littleneck clams and caviar to a full sushi menu with high-end products to tartares, ceviches and carpaccio, clam chowder, grilled octopus, salmon, and whole daurade, and a lovely lobster role. It is indisputable that the kitchen at Lure Fishbar is very good at preparing seafood. The sushi is marvelous – subtly flavored, perfectly wrapped and made with the freshest product, it is worth every penny. For tuna lovers, the spicy big eye tuna roll is luscious. With six or seven varieties of oysters on the menu any given night, there is a type of anyone – briny, sweet, bitter. With any choice, the sweet taste of the ocean floods in, cool and refreshing. From the appetizers, the crab cakes are delicious – lightly breaded, stuffed with sweet crab meat, and not too bulky. Other options are the famous fried blue point oysters with a classic caper tarter sauce, a twist on bagels & lox with a crispy grilled flatbread topped with smoked salmon, cream cheese, red onion and dill, and beer-battered soft shell crab with creamy avocado.

From the entrees, stick with seafood – why eat meat when the seafood options are so good? The lobster roll is amazingly tasty with a hot buttery brioche roll, heaps of sweet tender lobster meat, lightly tossed in mayo, and served with a side of crispy salt and vinegar potato chips. Also wonderful is the Asian-inspired seared tuna, cooked to a beautiful medium rare, on a bed of soba noodles coated in a slightly spicy and rich peanut sauce. The menu has enticing diversity with everything from steamed snapper in red curry to juicy roasted scallops with chorizo and thick bucatini pasta to roasted shrimp with spicy short ribs, radish and mint. For the more adventurous eaters, an impressive grilled whole daurade comes plated with dill gnocchi and tomatoes. In the seafood entree section alone, there is something for every palate.

If you’re not prepared for the scene, Lure Fishbar can be immediately overwhelming. The music is loud, the chatter of tipsy fashionistas reverberates through the long space, the scent of men’s cologne wavers near the bar, and everyone is just so damn good-looking. But, if you know what you’re getting yourself into, Lure Fishbar is just plain fun. It’s a chic party where both the food and the drinks live up to the hype. And the best part? The table service is immensely friendly and efficient – not an ounce of pretension from anyone except the frazzled hostesses. All in all, Lure Fishbar is a great place to celebrate, to give visitors a taste of what’s it’s like to ‘go out on the town’ in New York City, and to enjoy the wonders of well-executed seafood.

Perfect For: stylish young things, seafood lovers, big blowout dinners, late night bar snacks, cocktails and oysters

Lure Fishbar on Urbanspoon

The Mermaid Inn: A Seafood Lover’s Nightmare

The Mermaid Inn should’ve been a date-night home run. It’s got a nice outdoor patio, a cool & casual downtown vibe, and a generally good-looking crowd. It’s quiet but not too loud, buzzy without being rowdy. The food walks the line between healthy and over-the-top with a little bit of seafood something for everyone; there’s even a roast chicken option if your date doesn’t like shrimp, fish or crab. Yet, unfortunately, The Mermaid Inn has either entirely lost its spark, or it’s always been way over-hyped and just plain boring. While the restaurant itself is a study in charming simplicity, the food cannot possibly be considered good.

Situated on a hoppin’ block of Second Avenue in the East Village, The Mermaid Inn is in good company; Frank, Mayahuel, and Burp Castle are right nearby. Yet, all the talent in the neighborhood merely underlines how under-performing The Mermaid Inn really is. Not even the super chilled-out and charming nautical chic scene can save it. Rich dark wood, an in-your-face oyster bar, seaside kitsch, and a 100% awesome sidewalk patio draw in passersby, yet, if any of them have taste buds, they’re sure to leave significantly less pleased.

The shtick is seafood, and with the exception of just a few plates, everything is fish and shellfish. Now, anyone who appreciates seafood must know that it is difficult not only to cook properly but also, oftentimes, to flavor enticingly. You’d think though that a restaurant devoted to preparing seafood would be confident in its ability to deliver tasty and well-made food. Shockingly, the Mermaid Inn overcooked and underseasoned everything put on my table last week. The jumbo crab cocktail was slimy and bland; the sauteed skate wing tasted more like crunchy breading than anything else and the wilted greens were just too bitter to enjoy; the spicy shrimp pasta was a soupy mess with absolutely no spice whatsoever, overcooked shrimp, and again too-bitter-to-stomach greens. In fact, the only remotely delicious thing presented was a mere side dish of heirloom tomatoes, plump, juicy, and dressed in a tangy vinaigrette.

As a native of Massachusetts and of a family from Cape Cod, well-done and simple seafood is often considered sacred where I’m from; thus, The Mermaid Inn’s approach to cooking and serving seafood seems sacrilegious and is, without a doubt, disappointing. Seafood should be cooked and served with care and with skill; for, anyone who’s had the unfortunate experience of eating bad seafood knows that it is particularly offensive.

Craving fish & chips? Head across town to A Salt & Battery. Have a yen for lobster rolls? Luke’s Lobster is just a block or two away. Crab cakes your path to nirvana? Even Choptank, on Bleecker, offers up better quality crab. Manhattan is replete with seafood specialty shops and restaurants offering up just a few excellent seafood options (Aldea, Marea, Matsugen, and L’Artusi, to name a few)- why waste time and money on one that will make you wish you stuck with roast chicken?

Perfect For: happy hour $1 oysters, snacks al fresco, student budget-friendly dinner

Mermaid Inn on Urbanspoon

Sel de Mer: Salty Seafood Supper

Williamsburg is slowly creeping up on my list of favorite eating neighborhoods after my recent dinner at Sel de Mer, a casual seafood joint on Graham Avenue. A previously unexplored segment of Billyburg for me, around the intersection of Metropolitan Ave and Graham Ave yields several great finds (other than the neon 24hr White Castle) from sexy Mexican at Mesa Coyoacan to rustic Provencal at Fanny to classic Italian at Cono & Son. Without using too many stereotypes here, Sel de Mer embodies the laidback super-casual yet culturally-aware throbbing heart of Williamsburg.

On a quiet block outside the busy ‘just-over-the-bridge’ mini-hood near Bedford Street, Sel de Mer or ‘sea salt’ lurks. A tiny space, the dining room seats just 28 plus 4 seats at the bar. Blue painted siding and warm yellow walls evoke sand and sea, while nautical knick-knacks and a bold fishy smell hammer it home that Sel de Mer serves seafood and, really, only seafood. The most complicated part of the restaurant is the mess of tattoos on the three artfully-disheveled servers.

Made out of the covers of old library books, the menu is a greatest hits compilation of classic seafood dishes. Everything from mussels mariniere to fish & chips to fish cakes to shrimp & lobster cocktail is there and for under $15. The specials menu also yields a few gems including the sea scallops on a bed of bacon creamed spinach, oysters, tuna carpaccio, a whole dorade, a whole grouper, and grilled bronzino. Generous portions, loads of crusty sea salt, and fresh flavor-packed proteins make Sel de Mer a neighborhood keeper. The highlights reel includes mounds of fish & chips in the perfect light crusty batter showered in malt vinegar, five dainty and super caramelized sea scallops perched atop savory and delightly mushy cream of spinach, and the hulking rounds of juicy fried green tomatoes served with brie, lemon juice, and saffron aioli.

As a Bostonian and a Cape Codder at heart, I can vouch for the quality omnipresent in the seafood at Sel de Mer; these seafood classics are done right with few unnecessary trimmings. It’s just good-tasting food for rock-bottom prices in a charmingly residential neighborhood – not to mention, the bottles of wine will blow your mind, often priced for under $30 – what more could you want from a casual restaurant?

Perfect For: fish and malt vinegar cravings, casual dinner out in the neighborhood, late in the game date with no need to impress, brooklyn adventurings, pre-game feast

Sel de Mer on Urbanspoon

Choptank: Seafood Chip Shop With Weak Chops

Choptank’s got the location, the vibe, and the pedigree, and yet, somehow still falls short of expectations. The surprisingly expansive space on Bleecker Street, near the intersection with 7th Avenue, does a good job of evoking a casual seaside seafood chip shop (with, naturally, some West Village style).

The entry way has a cheerful and cozy fireplace as well as corkboard walls plastered with postcards of marinas, the Chesapeake Bay and the Choptank River. The restaurant itself is divided between a dining room with brown paper-covered tables and hanging nautical maps and a large square marble-topped bar area with central beer taps. The vibe is completely casual, as highlighted by dishtowel napkins, corkboard bills, and mellow rock tunes.

The menu reads like a litany of traditional Maryland seaside favorites, offering everything from basic Old Bay chips and crab dip to jumbo lump crab cakes to crab chowder, southern fish fry, fried chicken, and a fried oyster po’boy. However, despite the scrumptious -sounding options, the actual food was pretty average. Old Bay chips with crap dip were given on the house (thanks!), and the dip, despite loaded with heart-stopping ingredients), was addictive. The rock shrimp taco is actually just a few nuggets of popcorn shrimp in a soft pita with some leafy greens – I was expecting something bursting with flavor and texture, but alas, it was just weak. The jumbo lump crab cake lacked spark, served as just a big fat disk of middle-grade tasting crab meat with an anemic “Louis” side salad (read: 4 green beans, some egg whites, and 3 grape tomatoes…). The fried oyster po’boy was definitely the best of the sampled dishes, served on a crispy buttery roll with fried-to-perfection oysters, ranch dressing, pickle slaw, and onions. Tasty and crispy, it was definitely a good dish (albeit, a surefire cause of heart attacks).

All in all though, Choptank was a disappointment. I expected something remarkable from Bobby Werhane, the former owner of L’Artusi and dell’anima, and Choptank turned out to be so ordinary. As a neighborhood restaurant, it doesn’t stand out from the competition in the foodie-frantic West Village, and as a destination restaurant, it is far too plain. Thus, it simply middles. However, it is worth noting, that the raw bar, beer selection, and patio out back are all tempting draws for summer loungin’. For this reason, I recommend Choptank not for dinner but instead for drinks and snacks. The drinks menu impresses and seduces, while the promise of Boardwalk Fries lingers in the air…

Choptank on Urbanspoon

Luke, Your Lobstah’s OK With Me

Last night, my good friend from high school, Zoe of Zoe Has Appetite, and I checked out the opening of Luke’s Lobster in the East Village. A diminuitive hole in the wall just off the restaurant row of 1st Avenue, Luke’s offers up quick, cheap and fresh seafood, chips, fruit soda, and essentially no seating. With room for just 8-10 diners to perch on bar stools, Luke’s is tiny.

The emphasis here is 100% on speed and quality. Despite throngs of people, Zoe and I got our food in under 10 minutes. It wasn’t served prettily, thrown in a cardboard ‘lunch box’ and wrapped in tin foil, but it was definitely quick.

Now, to what you’re really interested in, the lobster roll. Luke’s boasts the freshest lobster roll in the city for cheap. Cheap, it is. For $18, I got a large lobster roll, an empress crab claw, chips, and a drink. Is it the freshest lobster roll in the city? I predict fierce debate over this. While the roll played to all of my preferences re: lobster rolls, it did not play to all of Zoe’s. I enjoyed the cold lobster. It tasted as though it had just come out of the sea. Zoe though argued that she liked her lobster warmed a little with hot butter. She thought it was a little bland and under-seasoned; I felt like the purposeful lack of seasoning brought out the true flavor of the lobster meat. Both of us agreed though that as promised, Luke’s lobster rolls were wondrously free of mayo, celery, and other distracting additions often packed into lobster rolls. And, the roll was perfect – toasted (though not so warm…) and buttery, it packed enough crunch and sweet buttery flavor to satisfy my tastebuds.

Surprisingly, one of the highlights of my lunch box was the empress crab claw – immensely flavorful (though disappointingly small). It made me wish I had also gotten a crab roll…

All in all, Luke’s is a welcome addition to my rotation of quick eats. This lobster reminded me of home, of summers on Cape Cod enjoying unfussy seafood, of sunshine and the ocean. Unlike so many lobster rolls and sandwiches in this city, it offered me exactly what I wanted: pure and unadulterated lobster on a simple buttery bun. No fuss, no mess, no mayo.

And although the new restauranteurs have some kinks they need to work out (i.e. the chips are still in the large unsightly 30-bag variety pack box on the counter; the register seemed a bit…confusing; and a few customers seemed to get the wrong food), all mistakes are forgiven if I get to have more of this relatively under-priced fresh lobster.

Luke's Lobster on Urbanspoon