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Posts Tagged ‘seafood’

An update is long overdue, I know. I’ve been so exhausted and sometimes the thought of catching everyone up on my comings and goings at school overwhelms me and I take a nap instead. (Shrug) Don’t judge me.

My friend, Joy, who is visiting, laid on the guilt today (“I’M TELLING ALL MY FRIENDS ABOUT YOUR BLOG SO YOU BETTER UPDATE IT IT!”) so I guess I better post to shut her up.

Here are some highlights:

The first of two fish days was rough for me. Nothing actually went terribly wrong. Our bass en papillote (cooked in a sealed paper package) puffed up perfectly and was cooked properly and the caper, lemon, butter sauce over our fried trout was well seasoned, but there was always something. The plates we served the bass on weren’t hot enough. (HOT FOOD, HOT PLATE!) The croutons on our trout were just a shade too brown. Coupled with what felt like Chef M. picking on me all day, I had one of those days that I had to will myself not to burst into tears out of frustration.

It sounds a little melodramatic, I know, but when you’ve been sweating and running around and slicing your fingers open over a boiling hot stove, a dark crouton feels like a big deal. So before I go completely mental, I’ve got to come to terms with the fact that most of the time, especially at this stage of schooling, there will be something. The point is to minimize the somethings to the best of my ability. FINE…moving on.

The second fish day I learned how to clean a fish from top to bottom, snipping off the fins, scaling it, removing guts, and filleting. I got an eye full of scales (painful) and kept commenting on how smelly other people were in line at the bank before I realized that it was me…

Another noteworthy day was shellfish day, very dramatic and easily one of the most luxurious days I’ve had at school. I KILLED A LOBSTER! WITH MY BARE HANDS! Well, my hands and a giant chef’s knife. Chef M. kindly gave us the option of killing our lunch one of two ways: dumping it in a broth and covering it with a lid (nice and clean, like an assassin’s work) or plunging a knife into the back of the moving, live lobster’s head and then bring the edge of the knife through its head (messy and intimate, like a crime of passion). The head wasn’t difficult, but the body was a little tougher as the lobster was still feistily moving and curling its tail and I was attempting to chop it in half. Then when I finally did succeed in dividing the corpse in half, it, um, kept moving. Like, a lot. Like, even with the two halves were on opposite ends of my chopping board. Weird.

Last Friday was my most successful day yet. The first day that all my dishes passed with no criticism and no real criticism while I was working either. I learned how to quarter a chicken and remove the breasts and legs from a duck. With no time to eat, I ended up bringing the lot home and serving it with rice pilaf for dinner. Economical AND easy!

Okay, I’m sleepy now and have to get up early in the morning. I’ll write more tomorrow. I promise.

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Mermaid Inn

Mermaid Inn
568 Amsterdam Avenue (bet. 87th and 88th Streets)
212-799-7400

I wanted to love it. I really, really wanted to love it. I had read so many good things about it. I love seafood. I love finding great seafood joints that I don’t have to drive 2+ hours for…I might have to keep looking.

There was nothing terribly wrong with my experience at Mermaid Inn. No hair in my food, no salmonella poisoning or anything. It just wasn’t great and in a city like New York, you’ve gotta be great to get my attention (read: money) on more than one occasion. LL Cool J’s “Momma said Knock you Out” playing on full blast didn’t really help either.

Matt and I started off the meal with a dozen oysters. I’m not sure what the root of that myth is that you shouldn’t have oysters in any month without an “r” (a more complex way of saying, don’t eat oysters in late spring/summer). So far I’ve consumed about three dozen oysters or so this summer. All delicious. Anyway, these were no exception. But it’s tough to assess the real cooking chops of a restaurant by its mignonette.

Since they have no desserts, everything came down to the main course. I had the summer shrimp risotto with cockles. It had a similar texture to farro or barley “risotto”, which I do not enjoy, made all the more unappealing by the roughly chopped herbs in it (basil and parsley) and shard-like slivers of lemon peel. The shrimp and cockles were small and, strangely enough, added little to the dish. The flavor overall was fairly bland, overly herby, and only mildly lemon-y with little to no salt. Thank god they have salt cellars on the tables.

Matt had the whole fish, which that night was sea bass, roasted with herbs and fried chunks of potato. This dish was more successful. The fish was crisp and not overwhelmed by the herbs. The potatoes were crunchy and salty. The dish was good, but nothing so special as to warrant a hurried return.

Oddly enough, as I mentioned earlier, the Mermaid Inn doesn’t offer dessert, but with the bill comes a n espresso cup of gelatin-ized chocolate pudding with a dollop of whipped cream. It was okay, but I would have preferred something more special and delicious.

In fact, that sums up the experience pretty well.

Overall, it was okay, but I would have preferred something more special and delicious.

Dinner for Two:

1 Dozen Oysters – $25

Summer Shrimp Risotto – $21

Whole Roasted Fish – $23

Bottle of Muscadet – $26

Total (excluding tax and tip) = $95

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“but answer came there none. And this was scarcely odd because they’d eaten every one!” -Lewis Carroll

I’m so ashamed to admit that for most of my life I’ve kept raw oysters at arm’s length; first despising the very thought of them (age 0-13), then slowly coming to accept their inevitable place in the culinary world (14-21), then eventually eating enough of them to ask myself how I had ever lived without them (22-present)!

I now regularly crave the slippery soft texture of the oyster combined with the salty, ocean-y “liquor” (brine/oyster juice/whatever you want to call it) of the raw beast. Nyum, nyum.

At the same time I can understand why people would cringe at the thought of a raw oyster. After all it is quite odd looking with its overall squiggy-ness (scientific term, look it up), and its random slippery black and gray bits. That slipperiness that I crave, others may raise a flared nostril at, disgusted by the sheer “raw-ness” that that texture conveys. Plus, when it arrives at your table on that pretty little bed of crushed ice, if everything is as it’s supposed to be, the oysters were, up until very, very recently…alive and kicking (so to speak). Ew. So I understand why people may not like oysters, but everyone should at least give them a try once. And if you won’t, that’s okay. More for me, I say.

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Random photo of random oysters! See the gray squiggy bits?

I have to give credit where credit is due. Matt (the boyfriend since January ’07) really opened my eyes to the wonders of raw oysters. Without ever forcing it down my throat (figuratively or literally), he piqued my curiosity with his enthusiastic oyster slurping (“Damn, this guy really loves sucking down oysters…so I guess they must be good?”). Once I started asking more about them, he slowly introduced me to the ones he particularly enjoyed and why (he’s a big West Coast enthusiast with a solid appreciation for various East Coast varieties as well).

Over 3-4 dinners, spanning a 5-6 month period, he allowed me to try whichever oysters he ordered that time, happily encouraging me to taste and try, albeit in a casual (“eat as many as you want, don’t have any, if you don’t feel like it” type of casual) manner. After that, I was hooked. Watch out cholesterol, here come a dozen oysters a day!

Well, no, not really. If only I could afford it.

There are definite differences between West Coast and East Coast varieties of oysters. Even as a novice, I could spot them right away. Very often West Coast oysters are smaller (but can often be plumper) than East Coast oysters. The shells of the West Coast oysters are spikier and more rough than the East Coast shells. Aside from looks, the tastes also vary greatly. I find East Coast oysters brinier with sometimes a sharply salty bite to them. The West Coast oysters are more mild (what I would recommend for a beginner) with a creamier, smoother taste and texture. I personally have become a West Coast lady myself.

Some East Coast varieties you’ve probably spotted often include Beausoleils, Prince Edward Island, Wellfleets, and Malpeques. Popular West Coast varieties include Hamma Hammas, Malaspinas, and Skookums.

You have to use the tiny fork to loosen the oyster from its shell or else you’ll end up drinking a tablespoon of vinegar with the oyster still hanging onto its former home (been there, done that, not pleasant). Once it’s loosened, some people just swallow the critters whole. Others, like myself, chew first.

How do you take your oysters? They’re often served with cocktail sauce, but I think cocktail sauce is much too flavorful for the delicate taste of oysters. It overpowers their salty flavor. If that’s what you’re after then it’s alright, but then why are you shelling out $2/oyster to eat a shell full of cocktail sauce? It’s a good accompaniment for novice oyster tasters though, I must say (that’s how I got my start). Otherwise, they’re great with just a squeeze of lemon and some mignonette (vinegar, usually red wine, with chopped shallots) or, for a little kick, a dash of Tabasco sauce.

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My boyfriend and I recently went to Ed’s Lobster Bar for the first time. We were concerned about a long line on a Friday night, but we didn’t have to wait at all to sit at the bar. This may have been due to the fact that it was already 9:15pm and there were only two of us. We noted two groups of four waiting. The restaurant itself is quite small (long and narrow) with most of the seating at the gray and white marble bar. From what I could see there were about six or seven tables in the back behind a brick column at the very end of the bar. There are also some seats along a ledge, facing the wall behind the bar.

My impression of the décor was that, in New York City, where everything’s been done a million times over, Ed’s Lobster Bar has done a decidedly fresh take on the typical, what I like to call, “upscale, trendy seafood joint.” Without mentioning the actual names of other notable, trendy, cute, and cramped seafood restaurants in the city, most of them attempt to transport the diner to another place, perhaps even another time. One restaurant that comes to mind evokes a decidedly New England, white washed feel. The other, its fierce competitor, possesses a more laidback Floridian fish shack vibe. Ed’s Lobster Bar, however, goes for what a great New York fish joint would be like if fish joints were actually native to New York City.

The brick walls are painted an almost gray-ish white and the light fixtures that hang above the bar are modern and sleekly silver without feeling cold. The lighting is soft and the mood clean, spare, but intimate. The chalkboards scattered throughout the room serve the basic function of displaying the ever-changing catches of each day, albeit in a quaint manner.

The menu is printed on the paper place setting lending a casualness to the noticeably sophisticated atmosphere. On the chalkboards were written some special dishes and drinks side by side with some of the menu staples like the lobster roll and the raw seafood sampler.

This past Friday (10/05/07) some of the specials were crab dip, crab cakes, and the lobster burger. Some of the special cocktails included a spiked lemonade, kir royale, and Bourbon punch. The beer and wine menu are fairly extensive compared to what I’ve seen at some other small seafood places. My guy had the Jever Pilsner, which he seemed to enjoy. I had the aforementioned spiked lemonade which was refreshing, but not worth $12 (I don’t think any cocktail is really worth $12 though).

We started by sharing the raw sampler which included two oysters, two little neck clams, two crab claws, two jumbo shrimp, and half of (what we estimated to be) a 1-lb lobster served with cocktail sauce, a spiced mayo, and mignonette. At $29 dollars, this seemed to be a very good deal.

In terms of the oysters, they gave us one Malpeque and one Beau Soleil, both East Coast oysters if I’m not mistaken. These were the oysters featured that night along with one other kind whose name has escaped me now. I had the Beau Soleil which was small and full of flavor with just the right level of brininess. My companion said the Malpeque was also delicious. The little necks were brinier and good, not great, though this may be due to the fact that I don’t love raw clams as much as I love raw oysters. The shrimp were truly jumbo, fresh, and tasty, all I ask for in shrimp cocktail, nothing more, nothing less. The crab claws were meaty and delectable and the lobster was wonderfully tender and sweet. As I already mentioned, the cocktail sauce was as good as cocktail sauces get (I’ve never been wowed by a cocktail sauce, to me it’s either good cocktail sauce or bad cocktail sauce). The mignonette was good, although I don’t believe they used the usual red wine vinegar. It seemed like maybe cider or champagne vinegar. As for the mayo, when I tasted it on its own I thought, eh, just regular mayo with a little seasoning in it, no big deal. But when I tasted it with the crab and the lobster, I realized that the subtle, mediocre-seeming seasoning of the mayo was very purposeful and brought out the sweetness and richness of the lobster and crab very well.

Part of me wanted to order the famous/infamous Ed’s Caeser salad, but we didn’t have the appetite for two appetizers. Maybe next time. The woman next to us ordered it and it looked delicious and was a very generous portion.

For the main dishes, we decided to get two but share them. We ordered the lobster roll (naturally) and the lobster pot pie.

Let me begin with the lobster pot pie. It came in an adorable mini cast-iron (what looked like) cauldron. The flaky crust was floating atop the pie “filling.” The filling contained more creamy lobster broth than chunks of lobster, but I’d gladly sip that “soup” or “broth” every and any winter’s night. It was spectacularly well-seasoned and rich without being thick or heavy. The filling consisted of finely diced potatoes, carrots, onion, and (a ton of) cremini mushrooms, along with sliced haricot verts and, of course, lobster. The haricot verts (small, very thin French string beans) were a pleasant surprise, bringing a crisp freshness to the luscious dish. The crust was difficult to cut since it was floating on so much broth. I thought of the whole dish as more of a bowl of lobster stew/soup that happened to have a crust on top than a pot pie, per se. The crust would just sink to the bottom whenever I tried to cut into it. Eventually all of it sat at the bottom and continued to be difficult to cut with a spoon, but some of the crust, because of its flakiness, melted into the soup, which was nice. Again, I could have done with more chunks of lobster and fewer mushrooms (perhaps a substitute for more lobster), but the dish as a whole was a success.

Next, the lobster roll. I had simultaneously high and low expectations of Ed’s lobster roll: high, because the name of the place was Ed’s Lobster Bar, and low, because of all the other seafood places where I’ve tried lobster rolls, there is only one that I absolutely love (the one at Pearl Oyster Bar, but shhh, don’t tell Ed I said that). When I tried Ed’s, I smiled. It was delicious, but it was different than Pearl’s and so I could rest easy that I didn’t have to declare where my lobster roll loyalties lie. I could love both.

There was plenty of lobster, enough so that you could (and, really, had to) eat some of the lobster on top of the mound first before even picking up the sandwich. The lobster salad was very lightly seasoned, letting the taste and texture of the lobster shine. The ingredient (aside from the lobster) that stood out the most was the clean bright flavors of lemon juice and chives. I love lemon juice, so I thought I may have been biased, but my boyfriend thought it was just the right amount too. The mayo was minimal and the celery was there, but played only a faint role. The roll itself was the traditional hot dog bun-like roll, lightly brushed with butter and toasted, unlike at Pearl’s where it is soaked in butter and toasted (also a decadently delicious way to do it). All in all Ed’s lobster roll is lighter and more subtle with the lobster taking center stage over all else. So if you like a more lemon-y lobster salad without too much butter-y, mayo-y richness, this is the one for you (not that there is anything wrong with a richer lobster roll).

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But don’t let the lack of butter and mayo fool you into thinking that when I say the lobster roll is “lighter” that I mean the dish as a whole is lighter, because once you taste Ed’s fries, forget about any calories you may have saved from the small amount of mayo or butter. Ed’s fries are absolutely fantastic: crispy on the outside, very tender on the inside, and perfectly salted. I was holding my breath before I saw the mound of Ed’s fries because lobster rolls are often served with these potato stick-like fries that I really despise and I was so happy to see that Ed’s fries were not only a normal shoe-string cut (maybe just a bit bigger), but also some of the best fries I’ve had in a long time. As great as the lobster roll was, the supporting role of the fries really made the dish, for me.

Additionally, on the plate, were a few leaves of mesclun (that neither of us touched) and some very vinegar-y slices of pickles which were tasty, but a little too vinegar-y even for me (I have an unhealthy obsession with vinegar and all things sour). They had no business being on that plate. I kept going back and giving the pickles another chance, but no dice, they were just too pickled. I had to wash my palate with water each time before I took another bite of lobster.

Lastly, the service was attentive without being overbearing and the food came out at a good pace.

If you haven’t already gathered, I will undoubtedly be returning to Ed’s Lobster Bar, if for no other reason than to try that notorious Caesar salad…and the fried clams and the clam chowder…and the steamers…and, well, you get the point.

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