My Hampton Happy Places

So. … I may be a bit picky when it comes to dining out in the Hamptons. I’ve been coming out to the East End for as long as I can remember and, unfortunately, feel as though the restaurant quality has been on the decline for the past several years. Maybe it’s just the way of the world. … the truly local businesses cannot afford to stay with rising rent costs and therefore the only option is to fill vacant spaces with big names like Nobu or BLT East. But these places being pushed out are some of the same places that help keep the economy out there alive during the off-season when coming out to the Hamptons is not necessarily “en vogue.”

I just like to keep it simple. And while I lament the current trends, that does not mean I have not found Hampton dining establishments where simplicity and good food thrive. So, rather than rant and lament current trends (which I definitely could do), I will instead give you a list of my Hampton Happy Places. Hopefully after reading you will feel inspired to check out a few of these gems if you have not yet already. I cannot list all the wonderful farm stands, but these businesses are so, so, so important to life on the East End and we should always remember to support the farms by buying their local produce. And finally, if you read this and are reminded of your favorite Hamptons spot please let me hear about it! I am sure I am still missing some of the special ones.

WaterMill

The Green Thumb
829 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, NY. Phone: (631) 726-1900.

The Green Thumb is a Hamptons icon and the Halsey family has got to be one of the oldest family of farmers in the area. Right off 27 in Water Mill, the Green Thumb offers fresh, local and sustainable produce that you can easily pick up on your way out from the City. It offers select other grocery items as well, but it’s the place’s history and farm-fresh produce that keeps people coming back year-after-year-after-year. I hope this place and other farms like it are able to survive the times because they are truly what makes this area special.

 

Sag Harbor

Beacon
8 W. Water Street, Sag Harbor, NY. Phone: (631) 725-7088.

The restaurant does not take reservations and the wait time is sometimes painful, but the ambiance is one of my Hampton favorites. Situated atop the Sag Harbor Yacht Club, Beacon provides great waterfront views and a sunset that cannot be beat. Even if you have to endure the long wait times on a Saturday night, you can still enjoy a nice glass of Rose as the sun slips away from the sky. My favorite dishes are the Lobster Rigatoni and Halibut, but you cannot really go wrong with the menu. David Loewenberg and Sam McCleland have other restaurants in the Hamptons that also provide very solid meals, but Beacon has always been the one to stick out in my mind.

Big Olaf Ice Cream
8 Wharf Street, Sag Harbor, NY. Phone: (631) 725-7505.

Who does not love an ice cream cone on a hot summer day (or night)? There are plenty of places for fro-yo, ice cream, smoothies, etc… but Big Olaf is a Hampton classic for sure. Situated on Sag Harbor’s Wharf near the water, this small ice-cream shop is best known for the wafting breeze of homemade waffle cones that you can catch a whiff of from down the block. The line on a Saturday after dinner time usually goes well outside the entrance, but a bite of one of those freshly made cones makes the wait worth it. They have plenty of ice cream flavors too. There’s nothing fancy about it except the price tag for a small cone. … but hey, you’re in the Hamptons. Expect Hampton prices.

Dockside
26 Bay Street, Sag Harbor, NY. Phone: (631) 725-7100.

No frills here. Just simple, reliable American fare that can be enjoyed al fresco facing the water. The menu is quite eclectic and offers anything from chicken dumplings to fresh fish and paella. Clearly, the menu is influenced for a diverse range of cuisines. I recommend either eating in the bar area or outside as that’s where the restaurant really comes to life. It’s a great setting, even if the food is not super fancy, and a place that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Estia’s Little Kitchen
1615 Bridgehampton Sag Harbor Turnpike, Sag Harbor, NY. Phone: (631) 725-1048.

Little is right. This small restaurant on the side of the Bridge/Sag Turnpike is open for Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner and offers breakfast through the lunch hours (always a plus in my book). There is nothing particularly special about the decor, but the restaurant is cozy, welcoming and familial. Sometimes it’s a little too crowded for comfort. … but that means the food is good, right? If you have to wait during the rush times there is a garden out back which provides a more pleasant place to pass the time. I have only eaten here for breakfast/lunch, and am close to being addicted to the breakfast burrito. The predominately American cuisine carries Mexican influences throughout the menu, and all the flavors are really great. This place is still a little gem, so make sure you do not just pass it by when you’re whizzing down the highway on the way to Sag Harbor.

 

Sagaponack/Wainscott

Breadzilla
84 Wainscott Northwest Road, Wainscott, NY. Phone: (631) 537-0955.

First of all, the name is great. Second of all, the signs posted around the bakery always make me chuckle (go in for yourself and check them out). Thirdly, the bread kills it. Especially the cinnamon, sunflower, challah and gruyere. The handmade bagels are pretty solid too. But the real deal at this spot is the awesome lunch served all year round. Every day (except Monday when it’s closed. … yes, even on the long weekends) around 11:30 the barely legible daily lunch menu is posted online. There is an assortment of soups, sandwiches and salads to choose from. Don’t worry about the carbs here. … the fresh bread is SO worth it in this case. The sesame noodles are a must as well. I go here so often they know my name and, at this point, can pretty much figure out what I am going to order too. The classic “TMP” (Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto) or a Veggie du Jour, and then I am always looking for those sesame noodles. Throw a chocolate chip cookie on top and we’ve got ourself the perfect lunch.

Levain Bakery
354 Montauk Highway, Wainscott, NY. Phone: (631) 537-8570.

It’s all about the cookies. …well. … and the chocolate chip brioche. I generally would not advise spending $4 for a cookie, but these are (nearly) life-changing. There are four cookie varietals and I think the two “musts” are by far and away the Chocolate Chip Walnut and Chocolate Peanut Butter. Divine. And definitely meant for sharing. Eat one of these yourself and you’ll be feeling it for the rest of the day.

The Fairway at Poxabogue
3556 Montauk Highway, Sagaponack, NY. Phone: (631) 521-7100.

Dan Murray and his crew know how to serve a good weekend breakfast or lunch at the Fairway (Disclaimer: I have been coming here since I was probably 12 years old, so I have a lot of affection for this place and its people). Breakfast is served all day and many of the menu items correspond to a “hole” on a golf course. Makes sense since Poxabogue is Sagaponack’s public course. If you like your simple eggs, a bespoke omelette, hearty french toast or maybe a burger is your fancy then this is your place. Try to avoid the rush and go at slightly off times so you don’t have to wait and can snag a prime outdoor seat when the weather suits.

The Seafood Shop
356 Montauk Highway, Wainscott, NY. Phone: (631) 537-0633.

This one may come as a surprise, but the Seafood Shop has the best guacamole and pico de gallo around. Yes, the fish is great too, but MAN that guac. The amount of that stuff consumed in my house over the years would probably disturb most people. So when you go in there to get your tuna, swordfish or lobster. … make sure you pick up at least a pint of that other good stuff too. The Seafood Shop also has great take-out options and will even organize a clambake on the beach for you and your friends.

Twice Upon a Bagel
358 Montauk Highway, Wainscott, NY. Phone: (631) 537-5553.

Fresh bagels. What else could you want? This place has been here for years and is open year-round for both the seasonal crowd and the locals. In addition to bagels, this place provides full deli service at lunch to get whatever sandwich creation you please. Oh, and they make a MASSIVE iced coffee that is sure to keep you buzzing on the beach all day long.

Wolffer Vineyard and Wine Stand
Vineyard: 139 Sagg Road, Sagaponack, NY. Phone: (631) 537-5106. Wine Stand: 3312 Montauk Highway, Sagaponack, NY. Phone: (631)-537-5106.

Famed for its Rose, Wolffer is one of the premier vineyards on the East End. This place is so much more than wine though. There are events at the Vineyard and Wine Stand weekly and it’s always a treat so stop by on the weekends. The Wine Stand is really my favorite spot, particularly on a Friday or Saturday evening in the summer when the lawn is filled with families and friends enjoying live music and taking a load off with a nice glass or bottle of wine. You can do full tastings thee as well. I promise you’ll relax immediately upon arrival and want to stay for hours. Oh. … and the wine goes far beyond the Rose. My personal favorite is the Caya – check it out and report back.

 

East Hampton

Nichol’s
100 Montauk Highway, East Hampton, NY. Phone: (631) 324-3939.

This one is definitely a locals hang out. Whether you’re looking for an easy meal or a cold pint Nichol’s will have you covered. The menu almost has too much to choose from. You can really get close to any sort of pub/comfort food you want. The bread is delicious (definitely not good for you) and comes out piping hot. I usually stick with a solid quesadilla, which comes as a generous portion and of which there are a number of varietals to choose from. It’s simple, easy and sometimes just what the doctor ordered. And. … being an occasional sucker for small details I really like how the restaurant’s interior walls have been formed with old wooden wine cases. A small touch that I always notice and keeps me amused.

Nick and Toni’s
136 N. Main Street, East Hampton, NY. Phone: (631) 324-3550.

OK, I am sure there will be some people who look at this name on the list and think “What is she talking about. … Nick and Toni’s definitely hosts the trendy scene during the summer months.” And yes, that’s true, but it’s far more subdued than some of the other restaurants on the East End. Nick and Toni’s delivers a solid product with amicable service and an ambiance that is somewhat calming. From the bread to the pasta to the enormous tartufo dessert you really cannot go wrong with the food there. Don’t even think about leaving without trying that tartufo. It can feed a table of four and it is so, so good.

 

Amagansett/Montauk

Jack’s Coffee
146 Montauk Highway, Amagansett, NY. Phone: (631) 267-5555.

I am not a big coffee gal, but I do enjoy a cold one from Jack’s on a summer day. Jack’s boasts its stir brew technique and that the product supports fairtrade and is organic. All things people love in their food and beverage products these days. On a Saturday morning the line is almost out the door as the place seems to have acquired almost a cult following. I am guessing a number of those guests are also bemoaning the night before and desperate for a quick caffeine fix.

South Edison
17 South Edison Street, Montauk, NY. (631) 668-4200.

This is a newer addition to Montauk, but one that is great and really fits. South Edison is situated steps away from the beach and offers a seasonal menu focused on seafood and local produce. The restaurant has a great menu, awesome vibe and I have not run into problems with the service either. It definitely draws the crowds (in a good way) and is a fun place to go with a group during the weekends. The shishito peppers, street corn, baked clams and South Edison Clam Bake are all solid picks. Don’t forget the 5-Year Anniversary Sundae as a top off either. Make sure you ask for plenty of extra spoons with that one.

The Lobster Roll
1980 Montauk Highway, Amagansett, NY. Phone: (631) 267-3740.
It’s all about the lobster rolls at this casual eats joint on the way out to Montauk. This place has been around for nearly 50 years and the feature has always been its lobster rolls. The restaurant has a full lunch and dinner menu with many fried fish goodies and other sorts of things, but with a place named after one specific menu item it only seems fitting to get one of those rolls. Note: Great place to walk and grab a quick bite after a couple notorious BBCs at Cyril’s.

 

Mid-Week Lunching @ Jeffrey’s Grocery

I went to Jeffrey’s Grocery for the first time last week for lunch and my guess is that it’s quite a different experience lunching there in the middle of the week versus its Sunday brunch scene. Whenever I have heard people talk about the restaurant in the past it has been in reference to a great brunch. They don’t take reservations for lunch or brunch, so there’s always the wait anxiety but it was still always on my list of places to try. Plus, I am also a fan of sister restaurants Perla and Fedora. … with the need to check out some of the others as well. I still have yet to taste Jeffrey’s Grocery’s brunch, but I did have the opportunity to sample the lunch menu with a friend of mine mid-last week. It’s pretty quiet in the restaurant around noon on a Wednesday, but my guess is most West Village spots are sparsely attended at that time. Most people are in the office and it’s not really a neighborhood known for the “power lunch.” Quiet can be refreshing in the hustle-and-bustle of New York City, so I welcomed the emptiness and space with open arms and had an enjoyable lunch.

The corner spot where Jeffrey’s Grocery resides is the perfect locale for this rustic, charming and under-stated eatery that serves quite quite tasty food. The moment you walk in (at least when I was there) you immediately get hit with a strong bakery aroma as the chef whips up a coffee cake or croissants. The smells alone will make you tummy grumble and turn your gaze immediately to the pastry portion of the menu. I have been cutting back on the sweets (or trying to at least) so I did not sample any of those items, but let me tell you it took every ounce of self-restraint to not order that sour-cream coffee cake or almond croissant. With that being said, the menu has more depth to it than baked goods alone.

Since Jeffrey’s Grocery is known for its oysters and seafood I would probably be remiss without mentioning the plentiful raw bar menu offered there. I am not, however, the gal to rely on for oyster recommendations and I also do not tend to be the one diving into a seafood tower at lunch time. I will have to go there for dinner to do a follow up review on that! We kept our order pretty simple. My friend ordered the omelette and I the ham baguette. We also split a side of avocado toast because it sounded intriguing and we both dig that green power food. I would liken it to a guacamole spread over toast so do not expect sliced avocado to come out on bread. Simple but fresh, and if you like avocado I definitely recommend getting an order for the table. The ham baguette was a well-portioned sandwich that was a little more creative than your typical French jambon beurre.The country ham was places atop a buttered, split-open french baguette topped with a soft boiled egg from which the yolk slowly seeped out from the sides. I thought it would be a messier eating adventure given the egg, but the sandwich was quite manageable and satiating. The omelette was one of spinach and gruyere, and was also served with potatoes and toast. My friend enjoyed it and I only had a small taste of the crispy potatoes which were not too shabby either.

The menu has a little bit of everything for lunch and the portions, price points and tastes will not leave you disappointed. Also, anywhere that serves breakfast items on their lunch menu gets extra points in my book. I could always go for a hearty egg dish in the middle of the day to get me through to dinner. So, if you happen to have a day off and are wandering the streets of the West Village you might want to stop in to Jeffrey’s Grocery for a casual, quality lunch I would pop into Jeffrey’s Grocery. It may be easier than snagging a brunch or dinner table during coveted weekend times. And most importantly, let me know what you think!

Jeffrey’s Grocery, 172 Waverly Place, NY, NY 10014. Phone: (646) 398-7630.  

When To Book: Jeffrey’s Grocery does not accept reservations for brunch or lunch. The restaurant will take reservations by phone for tables up to six people two weeks prior to the date you wish to dine there. I recommend making the reservation sooner rather than later. 

Michael White’s Upper East Side Newcomer: Ristorante Morini

Trying out Michael White’s new venture on the Upper East Side was an easy decision for me given its convenient location near my apartment. I had also been anxiously awaiting the restaurant’s opening for months. Anyone who follows Michael White will be able to tell you he has been a busy man the past couple years opening anything from  a casual osteria to pizzeria and even an Italian steakhouse. While I am a huge fan of his culinary feats at Marea, I do think some of the more recent openings deviate from that which he is so good at – high quality Italian ingredients with a focus on seafood and an overall pristine dining experience. I feel like he got his focus back with this one –  Ristorante Morini – and believe it represents where White truly excels.

The space is elegant and fit for a festive occasion. Whether it’s a birthday, anniversary, business meal or other celebratory occasions Ristorante Morini should be added to the list of Upper East Side Side possibilities. The bottom floor is a slightly more casual bar room with a number of tables as well as a sophisticated bar that’s great for enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail or an alternative place for two-somes to more casually take a meal. I have written before about the wonderful experience I had eating dinner at Marea’s bar and the scene at Ristorante Morini felt very familiar. The staff was very friendly and professional. I arrived earlier than the rest of my party and sat at the bar for a hearty glass of Brunello di Montalcino while waiting. The bartender was very friendly and was kind enough to engage me in conversation for the fifteen minutes I was sitting on my own.

After my drink, everyone arrived and we were escorted upstairs to the main dining room. The decor is understated, but elegant and the tables are well spaced so you do not feel like you are having dinner with the table next to you, which always makes for a more pleasant NYC dining experience. When our waitress arrived she was clearly attentive, knowledgeable about the menu and able to offer up a number of suggestions to us based on what we each described our likes and dislikes were. As far as service is concerned, from the host at the front door to the bartender to the runners and up to the wait staff I can safely say there were no complaints from my table.

As far as the menu is concerned, there is a defining focus on seafood at Ristorante Morini. Whether you get your fix from the Crudo, the Sea Urchin Gramigna pasta, Branzino or any of the other offerings there is a definite need to test your palate with the chef’s seafood creations. The big-eye tuna and calamari appetizers were delicious. I highly recommend the tuna which is garnished with blood orange and fennel, and simply spectacular. Most of us ordered pastas for entrees and those did not disappoint either. I went with a personal favorite: Ferratini alla Carbonara. It was just the right portion size and was not overwhelmingly rich like carbonaras can be at times.The bolognese was a huge hit at the table as well. And even after all that food we were still ready to test out a couple of the dessert offerings. The semifreddo was light and took care of the chocolate fix. The pear tart was like a delicate apple tarte tatin and a good choice for those who prefer fruit-based desserts. As a final touch, you will receive a small plate of bite-sized treats with your bill of which I highly recommend indulging in the house-made caramels that very literally will melt in your mouth.

Ristorante Morini should be a neighborhood winner and attract not only local Upper East Siders, but also those who want to explore fine dining options throughout New York City. The restaurant is accessible, welcoming, pristine and serves well-prepared and distinct Italian dishes. So if you have an occasion or are just in the neighborhood and are in the mood to splurge I would definitely check out Ristorante Morini before it becomes a lot more difficult to snag a table.

Ristorante Morini, 1167 Madison Avenue, NY, NY, 10028. Phone: (212) 249-0444. 

When To Book: Ristorante Morini accepts reservations on OpenTable. It is easier to snag a table during the week and if you plan on dining here during a peak weekend time I suggest making a reservation two-to-three weeks in advance.

Going Casual @ Marea’s Bar

This weekend was my second time dining at Michael White’s Marea, but this time was very different from the first. I ate at the bar. For those of you who have never been to, or heard of, Marea let me assure you this is no standard meal one would normally expect from “bar dining.” Although it was not the full Michael White special, eating dinner at the bar still had plenty of charm and I was greeted by the same great service and food experience as when I dined in Marea’s main dining room a few months back.

Although I do recommend engaging in the “proper” Marea experience – one in which you eat in the elegantly modern dining room, savor the Italian wine selection and partake in the ~$100 four-course prix fixe menu -there is definitely  reason to also consider the more relaxed dinner-at-the-bar approach as well. I did not have to make a reservation weeks in advance (decided to go three hours prior),  did not engage in a three-hour long meal, nor did I feel the urge to gorge myself in four-to-five courses. Marea is a special place and in no way will I try to discredit its fine dining appeal, but I am merely going to highlight an alternative approach to enjoying the restaurant.

Bar dining does not always draw that much appeal. Many times you end up with approximately two inches of personal space which other patrons frequently intrude as they reach over you in an attempt to get the bartender’s attention. The other problem I have found in the past is that service at bars can be spotty and the meal typically feels quite rushed. None of this was not the case at Marea. Even though every seat at the bar was full, I never felt interrupted by others anxiously standing behind waiting for a cocktail. I also never felt as though I was part of the conversation happening between the couple next to us. The setting was still personal and intimate even at the bar. As far as the service goes, the bartender could not have been more helpful. From the time we arrived he made sure to seat us promptly and throughout the meal he was just as attentive as my server during my last meal at Marea (and the restaurant generally has very good service). We never felt rushed and were merely left to enjoy the meal at whatever pace we pleased.

Marea is known for many things but the pasta dishes are famous. All of the pasta is house made and I do not think I have ever tasted pasta so delicate and well-prepared. Maybe once in Italy, but Michael White’s creations are truly one-of-a-kind. The most acclaimed item in the pasta section of the menu is the Fusilli, which is prepared with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow. Nearly anyone I have ever spoken to about the restaurant has brought up that dish at some point in the conversation. I went against the grain and ordered what optically looked to be the most simply prepared pasta on the menu – the Pansotti. The dish consists of house made ricotta ravioli topped with a fresh basil pesto sauce. Sounds plain and boring, right? Quite the contrary. Saying each morsel of pasta nearly melted in my mouth may sound cliche, but that is actually the precise way to describe it. When a chef can make even the most basic preparations taste exquisite that’s when you know he/she has created something special. I only wish the bowl could have been bigger because I now find myself four days later still craving just one more bite. Prior to the pasta, I started with the Astice appetizer which consists of a creamy burrata cheese topped with gracious chunks of lobster. Another seamless preparation and one I think should be on most people’s tables at Marea. Even though burrata comes from the heavier cheese family of mozzarella, this rendition was light and the lobster was a hearty complement.

By the time the appetizer and main courses were complete I was ready to call it quits – my appetite was more than satisfied. I could not stop though because earlier I spotted a dessert calling my name from across the bar – Strati Di Cioccolato. There are a number of tempting options on the dessert menu, but as a lover of chocolate this was the natural fit. The chocolate crema and salted caramel mousse were encased on either side by thin layers of solid chocolate and sprinkled with a coffee crumble to give it a little crunch. The dollop of Fior Di Latte ice cream (literal translation – “flower of milk”) on the side was a very simple and refreshing finishing touch.

Even in the most casual setting Marea did not fail to impress. After three courses and two (very) generous pours of Brunello Di Montalcino I was ready for a good night’s sleep.  It continues to amaze me how even at one of New York City’s most highly rated restaurants it felt natural to immediately fall into a state of relaxation and decompress after a long week. There was no pretension or anything completely over-the-top. … except maybe the bill that came at the end. It won’t be the cheapest dinner you have ever had, but if you find yourself wanting a last-minute splurge, and are within striking distance of Columbus Circle, do not overlook the bar room and take a peek into Marea. Hopefully your visit will be as pleasant as mine.

Marea, 240 Central Park South, NY, NY 10019. Phone: (212) 582-5100

When To Book: Marea accepts reservations on OpenTable but it can be difficult to get reservations, especially at peak times. I would strongly suggest trying to book well in advance. Walking in and sitting at the bar is always an option, just be prepared to have a little bit of a wait if it’s a busy night. At 8 p.m. on a Friday I only had to wait ten minutes, but that could have been a little lucky!

What to Crave @ The New Crave Fishbar

During the past couple of months I have heard quite a bit of hype about one of Midtown’s newcomers, Crave Fishbar. After reading about the place and hearing reviews from friends I decided it was time to make the trip and check out Crave for myself. A friend and I ventured over there this past weekend for a low key Sunday dinner and here’s what we decided about the new seafood joint.

Midtown East can sometimes feel flooded by restaurants designed for over-the-top business dinners that run a big tab, so when a new place pops up that goes against the grain (and actually serves good food) I am always inclined to check it out. Crave is the neighborhood’s latest attempt – in my mind the first since the Smith opened its Midtown location –  to spruce up the East 50s and add some flair to the dining selection. For those familiar with Second Avenue in the lower 50s you may agree with me when I say that there are not many restaurant fronts that pull you inside and truly appear as quality establishments. It can be very easy to walk down these blocks and not take notice of a single place because nothing really looks all that interesting. But now when you pass by the West side of 50th Street on Second Avenue it is hard to not stop and notice the new gem next to Starbucks.

Crave may appear small but the exterior draws you in with its floor-to-ceiling open glass windows and warm pale green exterior. As previously mentioned, the restaurant definitely stands out on the block. The wood-paneled walls, dimmed lighting and plaid-print banquets give the dining room a rustic, laid back feel. The bar area is the most intriguing and well-designed aspect of the restaurant. The expansive marble bar is great for those who want to eat solo or a group of two looking to have a more casual experience. It’s also great for a couple cocktails! On this Sunday excursion the bar was not “hopping” but on a busy weekend night I can imagine it being a lively scene. The glass encased wine display adds to the aesthetics as well. Parallel to the bar there are a number of high-top tables that also allow for another alternative seating option (Note: if you sit in the bar room take notice of the fixtures on the wall. These large rotund mirrors above each high-top table will make you feel like you’re inside a ship on the sea or something of that sort. … Just trying to set the mood!). The back dining room is small and intimate, which is where we were seated.

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Even though I may have set the mood for a kicked back and casual dining experience the presentation of the food reminds you that you are not just at some small-town seafood joint. The detailed preparation and presentation of the food gives as much thought to the selection of the garnish as to the dish’s main attractions. The menu consists of offerings from fish, seafood, meat and pasta varieties. The menu changes from day-to-day so if you are regular it’s probably refreshing to have new options each Crave visit. On the other hand,  the transitional menu could lead to some disappointment when that great dish someone enjoyed the last time is no longer on the menu. Being my first time at Crave I did not run into such a dilemma, but if they take away the Fresh Florida Crab I may have a bone to pick with the owner!

After surveying the menu thoroughly and gauging my level of hunger at the time (which unfortunately was not very high) I decided on two appetizers and a side for my dinner – Fresh Florida Crab, Prawns and Beets topped with Manchego Cheese. As you may have noticed earlier. … I very much enjoyed the crab. The dainty starter featured lump crab meat on top of a cylindrical medley of garbanzo, corn, squash and zucchini. I was most impressed by the fact that the chef was able to place all these ingredients together in a way that the entire thing did not topple over. Where the crab was light the prawns were rich. The two jumbo prawns were prepared with a decadent, buttery foam and served with root vegetables that seemed appropriate for the season. They were good, but the rich flavors were too overwhelming to eat all the time. I think you can tell a lot about a restaurant by the quality of their side dishes. Steakhouses usually do this right, but I have a great appreciation for restaurants that come up with inventive ways so spice up a main dish with an additional vegetable or starch. Crave’s beets were a simple but just the kind of side dish I am talking about. These were not your typical large, deep purple root vegetable but rather these beets were small, pink and succulent. Really good and even though I was hesitant about the Manchego cheese this addition enhanced the flavor and did not hurt the fresh vegetable’s taste. Aside from the meal I just described my friend chose the Seared Yellow Fin Tuna which looked awesome. The fish was cooked to her liking and the vegetable choice of brussel sprouts and baby carrots appeared to be freshly picked from the garden (and tasted that way too). That’s all for the main meal, but if you all have not gotten the joke yet from previous posts. … I can very rarely pass up dessert. Since we were feeling the Fall vibe with the seasonal menu the pumpkin cupcake with cream-cheese frosting and homemade sprinkles was the most obvious choice. I should have asked about this at the time, but I am still so curious about the homemade sprinkles. Not typically a “food” item I hear being hand-crafted, but sounded impressive on the menu nonetheless. Dessert was awesome and the cupcake was jumbo-sized – the festive pumpkin cake was perfectly moist and the icing done just how I like it. Yummy!

After experiencing Crave Fishbar for myself I would agree with those who have said that it is one of the new City restaurants to feel good about. Todd Mitgang provides inspired and diverse menu offerings complete with fresh ingredients and culinary innovation.  It is a great addition to the neighborhood and creates an environment that is lively while laid back and offers quality food.  I would caution the masters behind Crave to be wary with changing the menu too much on a day-to-day basis. Figure out what the classics should be and stick to them. My second piece of advice would be to expand the raw bar offerings. I know plenty of people who go googly-eyed when they see an extensive raw bar selection. No need to go all out with three-tiered seafood towers, but a few more options would not hurt. Other than that, think Crave is off to a solid start and am excited to see what they have in store for me the next time I pop in!

Crave Fishbar, 945 Second Avenue, NY, NY, 10022.

When to Book: Crave accepts reservations on OpenTable. You should be pretty safe booking a few days in advance for prime weekend time slots.

It’s Always A Happy Hour @ Mermaid Inn

If you like seafood and are looking for a low key place to meet up with some of your friends in the Lower East Side then take a gander at Mermaid Inn. This “upscale” seafood shack serves well-priced eats in a friendly and fun dining environment. Mermaid Inn also has locations in Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side, but this review will focus mainly on its Second Avenue spot between Fifth and Sixth Streets.

One of the best deals going on at Mermaid Inn is the Happy Hour-And-A-Half. Beers are $5, wine is $6 and cocktails go for $7. But the variety of bar snacks from the sea at reasonable prices will really be what grabs your attention.  Fried calamari and sliders go for $7, oysters and clams for $1 and fish tacos for $3! And there’s much more. So if you have some friends looking for a new happy hour spot that will also satiate your appetite then stop by Mermaid Inn from 5:30-7 p.m. and take a advantage of one of the better NYC deals I have run into in recent memory,

Moving forward to dinner. I went to Mermaid Inn with some girlfriends and after our experience I would recommend the restaurant mostly for groups of friends getting together for a no-fuss, reasonably-priced meal. It’s not a spot for business diners or even really a first date type of setting. Just go there for a fun time. Be sure to come with a full stomach too because the food is not exactly “light.”  We enjoyed the diverse cocktail menu and plenty of plates filled with lobster, seafood ceviche and a number of fried seafood goodies. Any place that serves Pacifico beer and a good Dark and Stormy is a winner in my book.  Figuring out the best way to order presented a bit of a dilemma. The appealing appetizer selection made it difficult to decide whether or not we should forego entrees altogether.

I happened to be starving, so while the rest of my friends went with a number of things to share (which I clearly dipped my fingers into), I added a lobster sandwich to the order as my main course. I do not call it a lobster roll because those should really be served on some variation of a hot dog bun, but this rendition came with a generous portion of lobster salad sandwiched between a thick brioche bun and cajun-spiced fries. It was awesome. Other dishes on the table included: lobster knuckle escargot, crab cakes, a special ceviche dish being served that evening, hush puppies and soft-shell crabs. The lobster knuckle escargot was the most creative with small pieces of lobster meat – which were supposed to mimic what the snail version would look like – that were drenched in rich garlic butter and served with bread. The soft-shell crabs were a tasty summer treat,  and the crab cakes and hush puppies were an over-fried indulgence.

The end of the meal brought a pleasantly sweet surprise. The server brought out complimentary chocolate pudding with a dollop of cream served in an espresso cup. Since there are no dessert menu selections (bummer!) this was a yummy gesture in the right direction. We also received a fortune-telling plastic fish to tell you your personality type. Place the fish on the palm of your hand and depending on which way it moves you will “learn” something about yourself. I think mine moved in such a way that meant I was “fickle.” Not sure I buy it! While the plastic fish may sound a bit kitschy it’s an entertaining way to end the meal. When you pay the bill you get some Swedish Fish as well. …Double bonus! 

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The menu is fun and the food good, albeit at times a tad over-fried but I guess that’s part of the whole seafood shack experience. The service is attentive and helpful, and we had no qualms in that department. Mermaid Inn also pays attention to the details. Almost everything that comes to your table has the restaurant’s mermaid logo on it. These small finishing touches along with the chocolate pudding, fortune-telling fish and fish candies all give the place some added charm.  In the warm-weather months there is outdoor seating and the restaurant is larger than it might appear from street view as there is a second dining room in the back area. Since the restaurant is in the heart of the Lower East Side there will be plenty of post-dinner activities in the area to keep you entertained on weekend nights.

The Mermaid Inn, 96 Second Avenue, NY, NY 10003. Phone: (212) 674-5870.

When to Book: The Mermaid Inn accepts reservations on OpenTable. You do not need to plan too far in advance to get a table and you can always try your luck as a walk-in.