Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Restaurant Review: The Mermaid Inn NYC

I'm long overdue to write about Mermaid Inn, one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants. I've been a fan of Mermaid for years and was so excited to find a location close to my apartment on the Upper West Side. I can safely say I am at Mermaid at least once a week.
The Mermaid Inn is a cozy seafood restaurant that screams New England comfort. Sea-inspired photographs decorate the wooden paneled walls and tea light candles subtly illuminate the room. You may even spot a portrait of JFK and Jackie in the corner. Like I said, a New England feel.
One of my favorite aspects of Mermaid Inn is their generous happy hour, which takes place daily at the bar from 5-7pm. East Coast oysters are a $1, specialty cocktails are $7, and then small snacks like fish tacos are $3 per piece. There are also wines by the glass and beers for $6. If you can elbow your way to the bar, sip on the Chilly Margaret cocktail (their take on a margarita) or the Aperol Spritz and slurp down the Naked Cowboy oysters with a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of mignonette sauce. 
If you're in the mood for more substance, you can't go wrong with the Tuna Crudo, a generous portion of yellowfin raw tuna with avocado, jalapeno, lime, and salt or  the Lobster Knuckles Escargot, lobster meat broiled with parsley and bread crumbs, and served with a slide of garlic bread to sop up the au jus. One of my favorite appetizers is the Calamari Salad. This is not your regular overly-fried rubbery squid; rather this dish features seared calamari with feta, frisee, and cremini and shitake mushrooms. I'm always amazed by the combination of this salad and I love the unexpected umami flavors.  

For dinner, you can't go wrong with the specials. My last visit included seared scallops with roasted duck breast, sweet potatoes, and a blackberry puree. I hope this special turns into a menu staple. I also love the Lobster Sandwich--a buttery brioche overcome with succulent lobster meat and served with Old Bay fries. If you want a pasta-based entree, the Spaghetti with Salad on Top is a lovely take (and hefty portion) on fra'diavolo. 

Mermaid Inn also offers an array of sides. I love the simplicity of the charred Shishito Peppers  or the Staub dish full of Truffle Mac & Cheese. The Fried Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Marcona Almonds are also a treat. 
After you're done dining, make sure to read your fortune with the little red fortune fish and savor the complimentary chocolate pudding cup. Next time you're in New York City, you can visit one of the three outposts throughout Manhattan; East Village, Greenwich Village, and Upper West Side. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Restaurant Review: Prune, New York City

We had dinner plans with dear friends who were in town from abroad. I was tasked to find a restaurant but after hemming and hawing trying to find the "perfect" spot, I relinquished my role and asked our friends to pick. I think I made the right decision because it turns out our friends had a back up reservation at Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton's East Village hotspot. Prune has been on my restaurant list for years and I was excited to finally experience it (without waiting for hours). 

The interior of the restaurant is very quaint and filled with small tables, which created a cozy (and loud) atmosphere. Each table has a tin dish filled with poppadoms--a nice change of pace from the usual bread and butter--that gets replenished often.

Don't expect to eat lightly at this restaurant. The menu is filled with hearty dishes like bone marrow, creamed dry corn, and pork sausage. We ordered the bone marrow, baked mussels with parsley shallot butter, and one of the specials, a dry-aged beef. The bone marrow was to die for. The plate was filled with three hunks of bone, slices of toast, parsley salad, cornichons, and a small dish of gray sea salt. The marrow could stand on its own,  but smearing it on thick toast and topping it off with the slightly acidic salad, and a sprinkling of sea salt wasn't bad either.  
The baked mussels were small but that didn't detract from their savoriness. Lastly, the dry-aged beef was a hefty portion and had the subtle hint of a sophisticated beef jerky. 
For entrees we feasted on the spatchcocked pigeon and grilled lamb chop blade.  Can you believe I ordered pigeon? The Columbidea species is one of my worst nightmares. However, I decided to take a risk, knowing I was in Chef Hamilton's hands. How often have you eaten pigeon? I was also comforted knowing that the pigeon was purveyed by D'Artagnan, the gourmet food producer extraordinaire. Both meat dishes were prepared quite well--a lovely sear and plenty of salt, butter, and parsley salads. More parsley! Four of our dishes included parsley. Even though Chef Hamilton's take on the herb was tasty, I would have liked to sample another garnish. 
We finished our meal with a walnut chocolate tart and a butter cake, which came with a small glass of liquor. The butter cake was by far our favorite. Despite its name, the cake did not scream butter, rather a gentle flavor of lavender. 

Did Prune live up to the hype? I loved the inventive menu and preparations, but could have used a little less salt and parsley salad. Next up? Read Hamilton's memoir Blood, Bones & Butter. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Recipe: Simple Smoked Salmon

Now that the holiday season is underway and you've had your fair share of stuffing and mashed potatoes, I'd like to share a refreshing first course idea for your next dinner party. It's simple, inexpensive, and also tasty: smoked salmon. I was tasked with  creating and executing a first course, which was to precede  a pasta puttanesca.  Tired of the usual salad, I wanted to find a pairing that would whet the appetite for a seafood pasta. I decided to think somewhat outside of the box and use one of my favorite brunch staples. Usually I have smoked salmon as a bagel topper or perhaps rolled with a dollop of cream cheese and served as a passed appetizer, but plating it as a first course during dinner was something I had not tried.  You can have fun with the toppings, but I served the salmon over bibb lettuce and topped the fish with creme fraiche, capers, and a squeeze of lemon. It was an instant hit amongst the guests.