Seafood Feeds the Locavore
The days when seafood palaces of the twentieth century flew in exotic ingredients from oceans around the globe are largely a thing of the past in this era of declining fish stocks and ever-expanding carbon footprints. But thanks to the great locavore revolution, top-notch chefs are focusing on local, East Coast Atlantic seafood dishes like never before.
My uptown friends can’t stop yammering about the dainty, midtown version of the Atlantic lobster roll that the former Eleven Madison Park cook Bryce Shuman whips together with crème fraîche instead of mayonnaise at his new upscale establishment on 57th Street called Betony. The perfectly cooked Chatham cod with parsnips, miso, and brown butter is one of the many fusion highlights on the menu at the youthful New Zealand chef Matt Lambert’s curiously named (and now Michelin-starred) new Soho restaurant, The Musket Room, and if you ever find yourself wandering the borderlands of Koreatown in search of a first-class seafood dinner, you’ll find it at Shaun Hergatt’s latest haute-fusion restaurant, Juni. Like at the Australian chef’s last feng shui–challenged establishment down on Wall Street, the fluorescent country-club décor isn’t particularly inspiring to look at. But there’s nothing wrong with the beautifully plated, high-wire cooking, in particular the seafood entrées, like silvery squares of poached black bass from Long Island, garnished with gnocchi and a rich, old-fashioned truffle sabayon, and soft, candy-bar-size bricks of Atlantic salmon, which Hergatt composes with painterly precision on the plate alongside crispy, flattened strips of Greenmarket fennel, fresh-cut chives, and a lemony square of savory yogurt “cotta” cheese.
There are all sorts of worthy, non-seafood delicacies available at The East Pole, which the owners of the popular East Village establishment the Fat Radish opened recently in a lively, if somewhat overly loud, space on 65th Street off Lexington Avenue. But the dish I can’t get out of my head is the great fish pie, which chef Nicholas Wilber constructs with fresh Atlantic pollock, chunks of Maine lobster, and assorted other seafood goodies, all sealed together with fennel purée in a properly buttery pastry crust. The last time I dined in the hushed, priestly confines of Daniel Humm’s great showcase restaurant Eleven Madison Park, roughly half the dishes on the fifteen-course, $195 tasting menu consisted of locally inspired seafood treats, including slices of old–New York–style smoked sturgeon scented with applewood smoke, and a single, startlingly fresh New England scallop, so beautifully arranged with slivers of radish and fresh-cut pear that the two ladies from Beijing at the table next to mine paused over their lunch to take a picture of it.
For a slightly more raucous (and economical) taste of the new seafood boom, I suggest you elbow your way into the battleship-size tapas establishment Toro, which the celebrated Boston chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette opened in September on the westernmost edge of the meatpacking district. The name comes from the Spanish word for “bull,” not the Japanese word for “tuna,” but the menu features a veritable blizzard of seafood specialties, like great salvers of Valencian paella piled with fresh shrimp and assorted shellfish; little tapas plates of tenderized octopus tentacles and chewy a la plancha razor clams doused in garlic and lemon; and a toasty, finger-size uni sandwich called “bocadillo de erizos” that was so addictively delicious that the uni freaks at my table ordered it twice.