"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fish Tag - January 15, 2011

I am an aberration in a fast-paced city like New York: I never attend any openings, never manage to catch a movie while it is still in the cinemas (although I did manage Black Swan), never know what line is fashionable this Fall, never know which chef has moved on where and I do not even have a cable subscription. As a general observation, I prefer art produced by artists who are thoroughly and unmistakenly dead. Therefore, although I had been meaning to try the gastropub that opened on 79th Street, by the time I finally got up to go, it had already morphed into Fish Tag. Life is full of surprises; and occasionally if luck will have it, the surprise is a welcome one.


The chef seemed to have peaked into my own kitchen: This is the type of salad, packing in as many vegetables as can be possibly conceived, that will come out of my hands as I am a firm believer in eating as many kinds of food a day as can be reasonably stuffed into the limited amounts of meals. The salad painted a mosaic of contrasting textures and flavors – the chewy bulgur danced against the crunchy peppers and radish and the bursting of pomegranate seeds; the sweet dates and pomegranate played against the salty olives and smoky almonds and onions. Aside from the overdose of olive oil – generosity beyond adequate measure is pushy and unwelcome, the salad was as healthy and homey as my own.

GRILLED SARDINES – Fennel confit, saffron pickled fennel, radish & dried capers

The charring of the skin simultaneously made the fishiness of the sardines stand out boldly and yet somehow curved it so that it was not overpowering but pleasantly palatable. The pickled fennel and marinated shimeji (the chef seemed to be keen on Japanese mushrooms or was just trying to consume a large shipment because the pickled shimeji and eringi adorned many plates) enlivened the heaviness of the sardines. Lastly, the fennel confit and the light yogurt sauce mellowed out the rough edges of this country-style cooking and elevated it into a refined restaurant dish.


What a disappointment, this simple bruschetta turned out to be. It was mercilessly murdered by drowning, in a heavy dousing of olive oil, perhaps from the oil left after making the tuna confit. The bruschetta was generously portioned on a thick slice of rustic bread, pre-cut into three pieces of slippery mess, although a mess divided by three was still equal to mess. The generously portioned lackluster mash of bland tuna confit and mild baked ricotta buried the spicy peppers, pearl onions and garlic confit (more oil) in a torrential avalanche of white taste, as opposed to white noise.

SMOKED OCTOPUS – Chorizo, pomme puree, mushrooms & lemon

The skin of the octopus was carelessly dried out – the chef should have saved some of those confit oils for situations like this – but the pungent smokiness made the necessary chewing a pleasure as the flavor accompanied the time-consuming process to the end without abandoning you in the middle like those cheap colorful bubble gums. The broccoli rabes, in place of the nonexistent pomme puree, appeared stewed in oil, rather than sautéed (or I would be tempted to say that it was again cofited if the vegetables were not so brightly green); the oiliness was saved again by the ubiquitous and supereme picked mushrooms. Indeed, how many gallons of olive oils, do they go through a night?

GRILLED BRANZINO STUFFED WITH HEAD CHEESE* – Mushrooms confit & guanciale** braised greens

This dish so surprised me that I could have fallen off my chair. The peculiar, Frankenstein-esque, headless branzino carried a chopped hog head in its tummy, of all places. The head cheese had melted during the grilling process, devoting its life to flavoring and moisturizing the branzino. The result of this self-less sacrifice was a tender flesh like a baby’s cheek, which was so unexpectedly flavorful and caressingly subtle. The guanciale braised greens were velvety soft and yet bold, reinforced by the guanciale. I used the greens as an impromptu sauce for the baby pink fish – Mama Mia!
*Head cheese is a savory gelatin, utilizing the coagulating characteristics of the skin and the cranium of, usually, a pig’s head, as congealant.
**Unsmoked bacon.

Ice Creams: Chestnut Honey, Black Mission Fig / Dark Chocolate, Greek Coffee / Cassis

The chestnut honey ice cream was overpowered by an overbearing chemical taste, which might have come from the honey made by industrially polluted honey bees. The chocolate and Greek coffee ice cream was grainy and well-balanced. The cassis sorbet, my favorite flavor when I first discovered gelato, was lightly acidic and gently sweet.

Rose-water Turkish Delight

Who could have resisted walking past by the serving table full of cheese, Turkish delights and gigantic dates (which grotesquely reminded me of Amazonian cockroaches)? Our gawking seemed to have convinced the congenial maître d' to let us try the delicacies on offer. Eschewing the elongated, dark-brown and shiny dates (The Natural History Museum may have some on display), we asked for the prettily pink and semi-translucent cubes, dressed in white powder. During my travel in Turkey, I was never much impressed by this national obsession, which would devilishly stick to the teeth to the dentists’ delight. Although fragrant with the perfume of rose and delicious for the first bite, I still could not call this sticky sweet a delight.

Fish Tag
Address:  222 W 79th Street, New York, NY 10024
Phone:  (212) 362-7470

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