Sunday, September 14, 2008
Restaurant reviews: Pescabar and The Fish
Arnold Wayne Jones reviews two West Village restaurants that give customers raw food options.
Lots of people like it in the raw, but lately, it seems like the West Village is flush with it.
I’m talking, of course, about food — and not just sushi (though there’s that too). Uptown’s newest restaurant gives uncooked seafood a European slant, while across the street, the Asian fish staple gets a delicious makeover.
Pescabar swept into the West Village faster than a riptide. Owner Alberto Lombardi quickly repurposed the former Ferre space — a hit-or-miss Southern Italian pasta-centric bistro that never quite hit the right note — with his Northern Italy take on the food, albeit one in a style largely unfamiliar to Dallas. There is risotto and veal and eggplant parmagiana, but holding down the fort is crudo.
Like sashimi, crudo (Italian for “raw”) is designed to enhance the taste and appearance of raw fish. But unlike its authentic Japanese counterpart, crudo presents lots of chances to fiddle with the flavor profiles. There are no rigid rules or rituals associated with it, and the form invites sharing plates and sampling liberally until you find your favorites. And so far, none of our options at Pescabar have failed to impress.
The kitchen has devised seven tapas-style raw dishes ($11–$19), each gussied up with unusually lovely and creative accents. The fluke with Mandarin oranges and fennel exudes a fresh, savory Mediterranean liveliness, while the tuna tartare takes on a more North African style with a citrusy bite from lemon confit and Moroccan spices. The snapper ceviche ($10), delivered in a martini glass, expertly incorporates jalapeno, watermelon and avocado for a Southwestern take by way of Thailand.
Raw beef makes its way onto the menu as well, with the tenderloin tataki, served with a wasabi-level hot yellow mustard, providing an exotic counterpoint to the more common beef carpaccio.
Cool is the rule, at least when you order the crab gazpacho ($9) — perhaps my favorite soup in Dallas right now. It boasts graceful flavors and an intriguing saffron color: A fistful of Dungeness crab floats in a cool yellow pool of perfectly-spiced tomato soup, with a slight, vinegary tang finishing it off.
There it plenty of cooking, though, for those who wince at the idea of raw seafood. I became a quick fan of the fish and chips ($16 at dinner): Long, thickly packed breaded tubes of spongy whitefish, served piping hot with tartar sauce and fennel slaw. In traditional British style, the dish comes with malt vinegar; less traditional are the sweet potato fries standing in for thick-cut “chips,” a distinctly Southern flourish. (Like the fish, the fries weren’t greasy either — always a plus with fried foods.) My dining companion appreciated the crab cakes ($14) more than I did.
This is a Lombardi restaurant, so pastas are well done. My taglioni ($14) not only surprised me with its tuna meatballs, but with the tons of fresh peas — it’s a decidedly refreshing and summer dish, as was another winner, the risotto di mare ($17), loaded with seafood.
Happily, there are no bits of fish in any of the desserts (each $7), which have been for me as much a draw as the wonderful crudo. Lemoncello panna cotta, raspberry sorbet, a Venetian carrot cake (served without the distinctive frosting, but with cinnamon ice cream, a more-than-fair trade-off), millefoglie (wafers layering cream and fresh berries), zabaglione and peaches — we’ve tried them all without complaints. The sorbet, pungent and as scarlet as a fallen woman, makes a terrific accompaniment and stands on its own, but the millefoglie and panna cotta have been the repeat standouts.
The décor is bright and lively without being kitschy. Coral-tinted waitstaff uniforms not only evoke the sea, but also reflect the color scheme in the Venetian carnival painting that dominates the entranceway. Indeed, the painting sets the palette for the entire restaurant: Sage green interior, seafoam chairs, pastel sheers and white plastic chandeliers that rotate in the light breezy air circulating above, almost like clouds drifting overhead at the beach.
As with most Lombardi restaurants, there’s also a buzz, good and bad. The piped in music conjures up a cross between Station 4 and Ghostbar, and sports play on the bar televisions. Service has never been bad, but neither has it been noteworthy. That’s OK, when the food speaks for itself. Well, not literally — it may be raw, but not that raw.
You just need to cross McKinney Avenue to feel like you’ve crossed the globe. As sushi restaurants go, The Fish is as special as its name is not: Glamorous décor; friendly, unpretentious service; and best of all, a menu resplendent with delectable dishes. After several visits, we’ve never been left wanting.
The staples of Japanese cuisine are here. Our waitress arrived with the edamame ($5), shaking it in a lidded bowl so that the sea salt glistened against its pods when she removed the top. Yummy. The house salad was simple, and simply good: fresh greens, fried wonton strips and a delicious dressing. The miso soup — a milky broth of soybean paste, nori (seaweed) and slivered enoki mushrooms — was robust and satisfying. The nori seemed chewier, the enoki earthier than most places.
But even some of the simplest items have seemed reimagined. Most sushi restaurants create their own variations of the sushi roll, but The Fish wins points for a non-fish entry: The ribeye rolls ($10). Thin strips of (cooked) beef wrap around avocado and steamed rice with a tangy teriyaki sauce for a decadent if totally inauthentic twist. I’ve never failed to order them. More traditional and just as good are the ebi spring rolls ($6), shrimp wrapped in delicate rice paper draped in a thick dark peanut sauce and the herbaceousness of basil.
The sautéed scallops ($12), as my dining companion cautioned, “could be a great idea or a huge mistake.” Although supposedly pan seared, they lacked a caramelized surface and were instead drenched in a rich brown sake-soy beurre blanc, then capped with a jalapeno slice — and just wonderfully tasty.
At lunchtime, bento boxes come loaded with great options. Gently cooked steak sells the beef teriyaki ($15), glazed with a sake marinade that’s luxurious. The tempura, though slightly greasy to the touch, was excellent. The light dusting of batter meant the crispness of vegetables shone through. And the vegetables themselves showed imagination: a full okra pod, a long, slender stalk of asparagus, a scalloped medallion of sweet potato, a red bell pepper that seemed to form a valentine.
Sushi is another selling point. Those we’ve sampled have been delightful and fresh, often with a caliente touch occasioned by shaved jalapenos and toasted sesame seeds.
The tweaking of the food is almost in contrast to the décor. You could fault the design for being too traditionally Asian: Laqueured red and black surfaces; a sushi bar dominating an entire wall; sleek, orderly angles and muted lighting. But go into the bathroom and enjoy the ultra-modern spigots, the classy towels. Back at your table, the service is friendly bordering on affectionate, and without any pretense.
Modern and orthodox, hip and inviting. That’s The Fish all over.
Pescabar and The FishREPORT CARDS
3688 McKinney Ave. #106.
Open daily at 11 a.m. until at least 10 p.m. 214-522-3888.
|The Fish Lounge
3636 McKinney Ave. #150.
Open Monday–Saturday for lunch and daily for dinner. 214-522-0071.
|The perfect combination of raw fish, Northern Italian pastas and
to-die-for desserts, this easy-going addition to the West Village fits
Overall: 3.5 stars
Food: 3.5 stars
Atmosphere: 3 stars
Service: 2.5 stars
|Sushi with a twist, this mix of modern variations on traditional themes makes for an unusually likeable sushi bar Uptown.
Overall: 3.5 stars
Food: 3.5 stars
Atmosphere: 3.5 stars
Service: 3.5 stars
Price: Moderate to expensive.
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