Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dining With The Fishes

SoHo's Aquagrill isn't quite what you'd call a New York institution but the restaurant has occupied real estate on the corner of Spring and 6th for a very long time. Even so, I'd never eaten there and did not object when a friend from college suggested it.

We started with a dozen oysters. Aquagrill features about 25 to 30 oysters nightly, both east and west coast, so we instructed our server to choose for us. Aquagrill features a few sakes by the glass, which, in my estimation, are the perfect compliment to a briny bivalve. Once the sake was gone, we had a very inexpensive and very pedestrian bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (Sauvignon Republic, Stellenbosch, South Africa), which is actually just the kind of wine that really highlights seafood as the main attraction.

When the oysters arrived, our waiter was nowhere to be found. Instead, a backwaiter supplied a kitchen chit listing the oysters we were eating. The move was not charming. For three bucks an oyster, I'd like to know where my fish is coming from. Alas. The Moonstones (Narragansett, RI) were too briny and a bit mealy. The Easthams (Eastham, MA) were small and compact and very flavorful. The Royal Miyagis (British Columbia, Canada) were substantial and the right degree of briny, the Kumamotos (Humboldt, CA) were very small and delicate, the Raspberry Points (Prince Edward Island, Canada) were virtually forgettable and the Canoe Lagoons (Coffman Cove, AK) were possibly the creamiest oysters I've ever had. The mixed bag arrived with the traditional accoutrement of horseradish, cocktail sauce, and migonette. Nothing surprising here.

For our so-called first courses we both had tuna tartare because, well, I'm a complete and total sucker for tuna tartare. This version was the yellowfin tuna variety, served with taro chips (in lieu of gaufrettes, I guess), thinly sliced cucumber, and tobiko, and topped with julienned ginger. The tuna tartare was good. That's all I'll say. Nothing holds a candle to Laurent Tourondel's, a position I'll maintain until death.

I had one of the specials for my actual meal, Alaskan King Crab with pumpkin gnocchi, Hen of the Woods mushrooms, sauteed spinach, and a lobster emulsion. There was way too much going on in this dish. The sauce overwhelmed the delicacy of the crab. I'm not a crab fanatic like some people, but I ordered the Alaskan King Crab because you don't see it too often here on the east coast and it truly is a delicacy when prepared correctly. But the gnocchi was tough, the spinach completely unnecessary. I ate about a quarter of the dish before throwing in the towel, not a good sign. In retrospect, I should have ordered the snapper.

My friend had diver scallops over a mushroom risotto. She loved it; I did not. The risotto was a bit gummy, the scallops nothing special. It was the kind of dish we could have encountered absolutely anywhere.

But my coconut panna cotta, served with some kind of macerated fruit, was really perfect; I could eat it every day. And my friend's pear tartin, although a little too large, was also fairly perfect.

For those of you wondering what's going on with the new Boqueria SoHo, which has just opened on Spring Street not too far from Aquagrill, the place is booming. In search of a nightcap, we headed to Boqueria, but their bar was full. Instead, we ended up at Cafe Figaro, a dive where I once spent a night four years ago. How time flies when you're having fun.

210 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012

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