Friday, February 10, 2012

Fishtail by David Burke, New York

While I'm normally going to New York to attend a fashion or fragrance industry function, my favorite thing about making the trip is exploring the city's many dining options. Whether I want cheap eats or something more pricey and indulgent, there are a thousand examples of both in that town, plus twice as many in between. On my recent trip up north, during which I spent about 36 hours in the city, I had two opportunities for lunch and one for dinner. Dinner was easy - I knew right away that dining at Baohaus with my friend David was ideal. As for lunch, I was completely undecided and made and cancelled several reservations. Eventually I settled on Fishtail by David Burke, since it was very close to where I planned to spend a morning shopping: Bloomingdale's.

I got to the restaurant early, at about 11:40AM. I was completely exhausted from walking all over town the day before, didn't sleep well on the hotel's too-soft bed, and I was lugging my suitcase with me. Other restaurants nearby were already open for business, but Fishtail doesn't open until noon, a fact related to me in a rather brusque way by the manager, who nonetheless allowed me to enter and hang out at the bar. Michael, the bartender who would be my server and chief entertainment for the next hour-and-a-half, hid my luggage for me and brought food and drink menus. He also proved helpful in guiding my food choices. The lunch menu at Fishtail was available both a la carte and as a three course prix fixe with two price levels, one at $24.07 and another at $37 even. The two price levels seemed to me a bit bizarre, as none of the menu's prices varied wildly enough to require a $13 difference, but it was Restaurant Week.... In any case, I stuck to the less-expensive end of things and settled on the cracker crab cake, the whole roasted branzino - which came highly recommended - and the chocolate torte.

I'm always curious to see how chefs interpret Maryland's iconic dish, the crab cake. At Fishtail, "crab cake" is really just a play on words. What I received was actually more like a light crab salad flavored with a bit of bell pepper, the sides coated with what appeared to be tiny senbei, or rice crackers, stacked between two ultra-crisp Ritz-like crackers. A tomato marmalade sat atop the tower, and a spicy gastrique decorated the plate.

I loved it. The crunch of the crackers was a perfect compliment to the crab meat, which tasted fresh, sweet, and briny. While not a classic crab cake, it was far better than literally dozens of "real" crab cakes I've eaten in the past.

I had a book to read while waiting between courses, but I had a hard time concentrating because I really wanted to sing along to the music playing in the background - a melange of Van Halen, Journey, Aerosmith and other popular hard-rock bands from my youth. Michael and the sushi chef stationed next to the bar did not experience the same compunction and sang randomly here and there while going about their lunchtime tasks.

My branzino was plated simply, with a pile of wilted spinach and a tomato-mint sauce. It was a great choice for lunch. The fish's flesh was fluffy and soft inside a nearly fried-chicken-skin-crisp exterior, and I appreciated the generous quantity of perfectly-cooked spinach. The sauce was rich and tomato-y with a hint of heat and was a welcome accompaniment that jazzed up the otherwise very straightforward flavors.

The final course was a square of very rich chocolate torte topped with chocolate frosting. It was much like a brownie, but a bit too sweet for my palate. The almond ice cream was nicely almond-y, but also too sweet. And the swath of what I think might have been creme anglais was again too sweet, and rather unnecessary with ice cream also on the plate. Something tart, perhaps raspberry- or apricot-flavored might have worked better for me. I found no fault, however, in the accompanying cup of full-bodied coffee.

Overall, a very good and relaxing lunch. I sat at the bar the whole time and pretty much had the place to myself. (I guess people eat lunch late in NY.) Nobody rushed me, and at one point the now-friendly manager encouraged me to go upstairs and check out the dining rooms. I didn't take his suggestion, but maybe I will in the future, as I would very much like to dine at Fishtail again.

Fishtail by David Burke
135 East 62nd Street
New York, NY 10065
(212) 754-1300
Fishtail by David Burke on Urbanspoon

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