Diving For Seafood
Among seafood connoisseurs, the divisions between high and low culture—fried clams vs. clams Cassino, lobster rolls vs. lobster Thermidor—are fairly well defined. Once in a while, though, a restaurant comes along that straddles the blurry middle ground. Fresh, in Tribeca, is where I go whenever I have a hankering for codfish tongues or fried halibut cheeks, or hunks of “prime rib” swordfish, presented on platters as big as hub caps. The restaurant’s owner also runs an upmarket fish purveyor, which means the kitchen gets shipments of clams beamed in daily from Ipswich, and fresh haddock, which is fried in a beer-laced batter that evaporates on the tongue in a pleasing way, like spun sugar.
By a slim margin, I still prefer the $18 lobster roll at Mary’s Fish Camp to the $17 lobster roll at Pearl Oyster Bar, and the best high-end gourmet rendition of this classic dish is still the one at Aquavit, concocted by the great Marcus Samuelsson with slivers of pear, Sevruga caviar, and a shot of sinus-clearing ginger-ale granita. Nothing on the menu at Rick Moonen’s new midtown establishment, RM, is quite so bizarre, although plenty of it is quite delicious. In particular, I recommend the chef’s garlic velouté, which has the color of custard and the consistency of light cream; the wild striped bass, bundled in pancetta; and the skate, crusted in pistachios.
The multitiered blue-and-gold-hued dining room at Blue Fin is the place to go near Times Square if you wish to impress your out-of-town relatives, although for pure fishy satisfaction, nothing in the neighborhood beats the portion of charred octopus tentacles served atop a mass of fat white beans at Esca. For the ultimate in lavish seafood dining, of course, there’s Le Bernardin, where it was a pleasure, on my annual visit, to observe Fergie hunkered down in Mme. Le Coze’s discreet fat-cat-and-moguls section amid a forest of empty champagne flutes. Possibly, she had splurged on chef Eric Ripert’s newest lobster creation, which is dipped in brandy-butter sauce, or the small thatch of linguini bombed with lobes of uni and ghostly gray caviar from Iran. Or perhaps the calorie-conscious ex-princess did what I did and focused all her attentions on a single fabulous portion of the semi-dietetic “barely cooked” salmon, which was dripped chastely with truffle butter and had the warm, soft consistency of baked ice cream.