Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review: Fish

The first time we went to Fish was on a whim. It's only a few blocks from where we live, so we took a walk over without a reservation and sat at the bar, where they serve the full menu. On the strength of that first experience, we've been back twice, and never been disappointed.

It's a bit shocking the first time you go in if you'd ever been to Astral Plane, the stuck-in-the-70s bar and restaurant that used to occupy the space on Lombard Street. Gone are the tapestries hanging from the ceiling and the pictures of Barbra Streisand in the bathroom; in its place is an understated and thoroughly modern, yet comfortable, space with no extraneous elements to distract from the star of the show: some of the best seafood in the city.

There's a list of thoughtfully composed cocktails to start things off, from lighter fare like a Pimm's cup (made with homemade ginger ale) or grapefruit martini, to heavy-hitters like the Old Fashioned and a Manhattan (whose sweetness and alcohol-soaked cherries proved a little controversial). On our most recent visit I had my first Sidecar, which here is made with Armagnac rather than the usual Cognac – refreshing and nicely balanced. A nice selection of wines from the glass and select (mostly craft) beers rounds out the drinks list.

Though I haven't had oysters at Fish yet, there's always a nice selection, and this time for $3.50 a pop we could have tried Belons, a variety of which only 5,000 are produced each year. Even if you're not into raw mollusks, the first courses at Fish allow a variety of shellfish and other sea critters to shine. I had tender rock shrimp, tossed with small gnudi in a sauce with crushed almonds. The huge, fresh-as-can-be mussels come in a coconut milk and panang curry broth that will have you asking for more bread to sop up all the juice. The tender octopus, served on a bed of artichoke, pulled lamb shank and chick pea, was a little too charred for one of our guests, but I personally liked its aggressive caramelization.

Please note that if you go to Fish, someone at your table must get the skate entree. This is not optional. The skate itself is cooked perfectly, and it rests atop a magical amalgam of melted-down leeks and spaetzle, which is further embellished tableside with a deeply savory Parmesan broth. Oh yes, and there are also some shaved truffles on top, which on our most recent visit made the dish attain nearly over-the-top levels of luxuriousness. This is simply one of the best seafood dishes you'll ever have (and it's almost enough to make one reconsider the taboo against cheese on fish).

Our waiter informed us that the "pastrami crust" on the mahi mahi was not made of the meat itself, but just the usual blend of spices that goes on that deli classic. It worked surprisingly well, adding spice and crunch to the fish, under which you'll find a pile of irresistibly sweet and sour braised red cabbage. The menu changes frequently, but aside from these two dishes you'll find another three or four mains that are doubtlessly just as well-executed.

Desserts, made by the chef's mother, were a little more hit-and-miss. My pumpkin tart was really tasty in the middle, but the dark spiced-wafer crust was just too thick along the sides. The chocolate truffle torte (with pretzel crust!) was super-dense but tasty. There's always a great selection of homemade ice creams and sorbets as well.

Service is always perfectly fine and professional. Prices are a little on the high side (entrees all hover around $30), but given the quality of the ingredients and the level of execution, it's well worth it. If you like seafood, Fish is a must-visit, and even if you're not, the sheer deliciousness of Fish's dishes may awaken the seafood lover in you.

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