This bar and restaurant is set on the gorgeous Sherman Zwicker, a 1942-built schooner that’s said to be the largest wooden ship in New York City. On the deck, you’ll be surrounded by finance workers and early-30s money types on Tinder dates. But they’re easy to make peace with when you consider the setting: The boat rocks gently as ships pass by, the Hudson River and Statue of Liberty as a backdrop. (Also: While you might have to grab your check quick to avoid getting soaked, it’s particularly exciting to watch a storm approach from the west here.) Order the heirloom-tomato salad; the thin and crispy seaweed-salt-dusted fries with spiced ketchup and sage aioli; thatlobster roll; and, of course, the oysters. Most dishes are charmingly brought up through a dumbwaiter from the below-deck kitchen, which only adds to the experience. And Grand Banks is community-minded: It operates in partnership with the Maritime Foundation, and the team behind it work with Billion Oyster Project here and at their other projects (Pilot, Island Oyster). Make reservations to avoid a wait, and maybe bring a Dramamine. (April to October.)
Via Grub Street, written by Sierra Tishgart
"I can't think of a chef who would say, 'I want to rape and pillage the ocean'," says Blue Hill's Dan Barber. "And, along the same lines, I can't think of a chef who isn’t actively thinking about fish in different ways." Barber has a point: A number of big-name New York chefs are breaking down the complicated issue and trying to serve seafood with a big focus on responsibility. Tom Colicchio has pledged not to serve striped bass. Michael Chernow based his new restaurant on undervalued species like porgy and monkfish. April Bloomfield is championing bluefish and other underappreciated species. In the same way that local, seasonal vegetables and grass-fed beef first entered the consciousness of chefs — and then, eventually, the American public — the issue of local, sustainable fish is gaining traction in New York.
At the center of this seafood renaissance is Dock to Dish, a three-year-old initiative that gives a small group of 14 New York chefs direct access to fresh, wild seafood from Montauk. Members includes Mario Batali, Michael Anthony, Andrew Carmellini, Google's Michael Wurster, and Barber himself. At the moment, it's not as easy as simply signing up. The program has become so popular that there are now 45 restaurants on the waiting list and joining the group means a chef needs to be recommended by a peer, and then invited by founder Sean Barrett, a former fisherman. "I call it the 'Barber Effect,'" Barrett says, referring to the chef's uncanny ability to make other chefs care about the issues he thinks are important. "But the chefs are all about it — there's a huge demand for transparency."
The idea behind Dock to Dish's strategy isn't only about giving big-name chefs access to high-quality seafood. What Barrett's doing is reversing the traditional order of supply and demand: Instead of chefs placing orders for sea bass or tuna or cod, small-scale fisherman catch whatever they think is best for the environment (and in the best condition to serve at restaurants). Then, each Wednesday, Barrett delivers a grab bag of fish (just like a CSA) to the chefs — less than 24 hours after the boats dock. For the service, he charges restaurants $3,000 per month for a minimum of 300 pounds of fish. Chefs don't know what they're getting until the day before the fish arrives, but Barrett's system manages to cut out middlemen and get seafood that's as fresh as possible. "In America, there's an industrialized method of the chefs telling the fishermen what they want, which is backwards, in my humble opinion," he says.
One immediate benefit for customers is that the chefs are forced to be more creative with their preparations. Acme's Mads Refslund, the newest member of the group, recently broke down 60 pounds of monkfish and used the cheeks to make a seafood ramen. He also put butterfish on white-blossom branches, which he used as skewers to grill the small fish, campfire-style. "This changed my world of serving fish at my restaurant," he says. "In Denmark, you have a close connection with fishermen, but in New York, we're not used to that. We previously got our fish from so many places. It's very important for me to know Sean, who has connections with every fisherman. I can know the exact names of my fishermen. And if you know your farmer or butcher or fisher, you also know the animal."
This program is great for ambitious, mindful chefs, of course, but there's a question of whether or not it will have a larger impact on consumer culture. The biggest challenge, right now, is getting people onboard with expanding their seafood tastes beyond things like salmon and tuna and embracing a wider variety of fish. As a customer, it's hard to imagine sitting down to dinner and choosing tilefish over a big, beautiful slab of halibut or Atlantic cod — and chefs are well aware of how that affects their bottom line. "On an à la carte menu, you've got to serve a fish that's going to sell, and there are a small number of fish that are recognizable at a certain price point," Barber explains. "That's a very difficult position for a chef to be in. That's why this issue has become so complicated, because it's not that the chef is necessarily opposed to any of these ideas. It's that he or she is forced into a kind of paradigm, which is the western à la carte menu."
Chefs, however, are adapting to this new world: The Meatball Shop's Chernow just opened a restaurant that's built to free him of that exact paradigm. At Seamore's, the $21 "Reel Deal" plate offers diners a choice of seafood from the "daily landings" chalkboard, sauce, and three sides. "On opening night, we had monkfish, porgy, and yellowtail flounder on our menu," Chernow (also a Dock to Dish member) says. "The fish that I grew up catching and eating is right here. All I have to do is put it on the plate." Plus, Chernow points out, "The greatest thing about using local, sustainable seafood in New York is that it's inexpensive."
Kerry Hefferman — currently of Grand Banks — shares a similar philosophy (but isn't involved with Dock to Dish). He has created the Save Our Stripers campaign, convincing chefs like Colicchio and Harold Dieterle to pledge to remove striped bass from their menus. "I will pay fishermen more to give me large porgies that have been well taken care of," Hefferman says. "If these fishermen know that they have a market for sustainable, high-quality, local fish that's caught and kept in a quality manner, and that they'll actually get paid more for that, they're going to continue to fish that way, and we can change the market."
The real challenge is making these kinds of fish feel less like temporarily trendy items, so that the focus on responsible sourcing remains permanent. It's not unprecedented: "Monkfish was considered 'trash fish' until the '80s, when Gilbert Le Coze dressed it up and glorified it at Le Bernardin," Barber remembers. "All of a sudden, chefs everywhere had monkfish on their menus. And then, because chefs had them on their menus, they exploded on the fish counters at the marketplace, and then people were eating monkfish, and skate, without thinking twice about it." Bluefish is a more recent example: As Bloomfield recently wrote in the Times, it still gets a "bad rap," even as it's become increasingly popular. "When they are caught fresh and eaten within a few days, they are the most elegant, fatty, and substantial fish you can find from New York waters," she says.
Bloomfield is right — and the dishes chefs are making with what's often seen as by-catches are fantastic. New York's Adam Platt loved Anthony's monkfish dish, with black garlic and lobster glaze, at Untitled. The porgy ceviche with cucumber and Tabasco was the highlight of a recent meal at Seamore's. Somewhat similarly, Má Pêche is now serving a pan-fried whole boneless porgy with Pearson’s hot sauce, fennel, and lime. There's a bouillabaisse with sea robin and Pernod at John Dory Oyster Bar. And that's not to mention all of the one-off nightly specials.
Fortunately, even though the idea is only starting to take root in nice New York restaurants, it's already poised to break out: Barrett has plans to expand Dock to Dish to Boston, Los Angeles, and Vancouver — and he's "given the playbook" to an association in Key West. The initiative's line of thinking, and its team of all-star ambassadors, are onto something: If chefs and diners now pay so much attention to where their vegetables hail from, and at what time of year they're freshest, the same can be done with seafood. It takes time, though — and a whole lot of work — to create a different paradigm. "You think vegetables are difficult?" Barber says. "Fish makes vegetables look like kindergarten."
Via Grub Street, Written by Alan Systma:
Welcome to Grub Street's weekly survey of the most-talked-about, must-visit restaurants in New York City. The list below features spots both new and old ranked according to one important, ever-fluctuating (and admittedly subjective) metric: Who has the most buzz? Perhaps a famed chef has taken over the kitchen, or there's a new dish you absolutely must order. Maybe the restaurant is just brand-new, or the critics are raving about it. Whatever the reasons, these are the hottest restaurants in New York right now.
1. Fung Tu (Off last week)
Chef Jonathan Wu's year-and-a-half-old Orchard Street spot got a double dose of review love this week, from both the Times and Eater. (Bloomberg's Tejal Rao also reviewed the spot last month.) There's some critical consensus here: Even though the restaurant took a while to find its footing, it has fully done so now, the team is in the zone, and this has become — most important — one of the city's most appealing restaurants.
2. Untitled (Last week: 1)
At last week's James Beard awards, Michael Anthony took home the outstanding chef honor — one of the biggest there is. And, wouldn't you know it, Anthony is also overseeing the kitchen at this brand-new restaurant in the also-brand-new Whitney. Just as it is at Gramercy Tavern, the menu makes a point to highlight simple preparations of first-class ingredients, and the prices are surprisingly gentle.
3. Grand Banks (Off last week)
As of today, everyone's favorite bar-on-a-boat is back for the season. Hours have expanded, and so has the cocktail list. And, never fear, the excellent lobster roll is back, too.
4. Grand Army (5)
While we're on the subject of charming, welcoming, comfortably crowded spots at which to eat oysters and whet one's whistle, the new bar from Mile End's Noah Bernamoff, Rucola's Julian Brizzi, and Prime Meats' Damon Boelte is off to a great start. The drinks are crisp, the seafood is very fresh, and Grub's going on record that every oyster platter from here on out should come with the sauces in little eyedroppers.
5.Dominique Ansel Kitchen (4)
Dominique Ansel himself just opened his second location, this one in Greenwich Village. True to its name ("Kitchen" instead of "Bakery"), cooking is the theme here, and the majority of the menu is made-to-order. There are sweet and savory options, and it's open all day, so drop in whenever and see what kind of fabulous new creations Ansel and his team are working on now.
6.Bâtard (Last week: 3)
It's official (per the James Beard Foundation). This West Broadway spot from Markus Glocker, John Winterman, and Drew Nieporent was named the year's best new restaurant, a distinction with which it is difficult to argue. Head back in, check it out, and maybe order a French 75 while you're there.
7. Empellón Cocina (7)
Alex Stupak just reopened his East Village spot after a bunch of renovations, and will soon roll out this fantastic-looking tasting menu. Before that happens, though, Stupak is even dabbling in the Tex-Mex trend, turning out somethings like an impressive take on queso.
8. Rebelle (6)
Last month saw the opening of Pearl & Ash's sister restaurant, and — as you might expect — Patrick Cappiello's 1,500-label-strong wine list is nothing short of breathtaking. (Grub's advice: Just tell Cappiello what you like, let him know your price point, and let him go for it.) Chef Daniel Eddy has a menu of hyper-refined food to match. Oh, and there's at least one after-dinner drink that's worth checking out.
9. Ramen Lab (10)
This very tiny Kenmare Street shop has started to bring in a rotating group of chefs. First up is a team from Tampa that's serving some lightly Florida-fied riffs on ramen classics, while salsa music plays in the background
10. Porchlight (Off last week)
Leave it to Danny Meyer's team to pioneer what you might call the half-martini lunch: The new midday menu features low-proof cocktails that you can enjoy with a little food and — in theory, anyway — get back to work without wandering into the office looking like a tipsy Mad Men wannabe. Well played.
Via Grub Street:
Manhattan is by now pretty well strewn with places that serve delicious and affordable lobster rolls fixed around the $15 to $16 price point. Just because there's a glut of lobster rolls in a multitude of styles doesn't necessarily mean people should overlook a few more expensive options, most notably the brand-new $25 version now served onboard the historic fishing schooner docked at the end of a deluxe pier at the westernmost fringe of Tribeca. Here's why.
First, to get to Grand Banks, you walk out over the Hudson, past the tanning couples and kids waiting for lessons at the Offshore Sailing School. Once aboard, you notice that the life preservers are bespoke and empty craft beer kegs are stacked in the pilothouse. The clientele is decidedly yacht-club-esque and, between the crew and the customers, there is an abundance of nautical striped shirts. This could go any number of ways.
The boat rocks as you hear about the lobster roll, which comes with potato chips dusted with malt powder and Old Bay and tops out at $25, making it the most expensive thing on the boat's small food menu. It's almost twice as much as the perfectly fine lobster rolls around the city, and — yes — six times the cheapo but passable "lobster salad sandwich" doled out unironically at Nathan's Famous in Coney Island. Even the Grand Banks menu description doesn't really convey what's in store: The lobster itself is mostly claw and knuckle, dressed with tarragon mayonnaise with no discernible tail meat pieces or random interruptions of celery. It's spooned into a split-top bun lined with "boat-pickled" cucumbers, which keep the wet lobster and toasted bun separated.
As noted previously, New York's lobster-roll economics are surprisingly complicated, but what sets chef James Kim's roll apart at Grand Banks is the attention that goes into its preparation. His cooks don't have enough room below deck to break down whole lobsters; space constraints are not uncommon among tiny New York kitchens, and Kim's is even more miniscule. Some restaurants work around this by buying precooked claw and knuckle. Kim's lobster meat, though, comes in raw from Maine. His cooks poach it in salted water scented with bay leaves.
This makes all the difference. Lobster meat is sweetest, and tastes the most like lobster, when cooked just a few degrees above being medium, but before the tail and claw meat has a chance to take on a rubbery texture. Since Grand Banks handles the cooking itself, a little at a time, instead of relying on deliveries from a factory 300 miles north, they're able to nail that texture. The result is something cooked with more apparent care and, simultaneously, considerably less fuss than you'll find at other spots around town. With all due respect to the mini-lobster-roll empires and reigning titans, the lobster roll at Grand Banks is proof that small batches are better for flavor.
The boat itself will only be in Tribeca until the fall, at which point the lease runs out and the Grand Banks lobster roll could disappear forever. Like summer, it won't last forever, which is what makes it so irresistible right now.
Via Grub Street:
Eating and drinking on boats in New York City was once much more of a thing — perma-docked oyster barges like these once thronged the East River and lured in customers with tremendous all-you-can-eat deals — which makes Grand Banks, a raw bar and tiny restaurant that opens tomorrow on the historic fishing schooner Sherman Zwicker, a notch cooler than it already is, which is saying something. The project is the work of former Diner and Marlow & Sons founder Mark Firth, along with partners Miles Pincus, Alex Pincus, and Double Happiness restaurateur Adrien Gallo.
The wooden schooner, which dates to 1942 and also serves as a floating museum, is docked at Pier 25 in Tribeca, which can be reached by taking North Moore Street to the Hudson, essentially. It's the same neighborhood where Firth, who grew up in Zambia, landed his first New York City restaurant job, back in October of 1994. "I was in the city two weeks. A friend I was staying with in Brooklyn said, 'Hey, the Odeon is looking, you should go and try and get a job.'" At the restaurant, it turned out the manager who interviewed Firth was from Zambia, and the GM had a house in Italy, where Firth had just come from running a bar. He got the job, where he later met Andrew Tarlow, with whom he would go on to open a bunch of Brooklyn's new wave restaurants, starting with Diner, in 1998.
With his family, Firth left Brooklyn in 2008 for Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where he operates a restaurant, doing everything from busing tables, running food, chasing errant chipmunks, mending fences, and pouring beer. He'll be going back and forth between the establishments, at least until October when the boat is set to set sale. "We're really open to ideas about what to do with the boat in the winter," says Firth. "I really like the idea of Key West." Adventures aside, Firth adds the schooner may be dry-docked at the end of the season and that he also has tentative plans to convert the schooner to run on recycled vegetable oil in either case.
The boat has plenty of tables and two bars, one for beer and cocktails, and a smaller zinc-topped round where a cook will shuck half-shell oysters like Naked Cowboys from Long Island, Black Duck Salts from Virginia, and rarer West Coast varieties like Kusshis from the cold, less saline waters of British Columbia. Condiments include red wine mignonette, mint verjus mignonette, cucumber-coriander mignonette, and traditional cocktail sauce.
Small plates — the galley kitchen is below deck — will include Montauk fluke crudo, with Asian pear, radishes, pancetta, and grapes; there's also a straightforward ricotta and honey dish served with herbs, figs, and olive oil. The cocktail list is still being finalized, but will include fruit- and tradewinds-influenced drinks like the Strawberry Almond Fix, which consists of Jamaican rum, almond syrup, lemon juice, and muddled fresh strawberries.
The exhibition Zwicker History is open 10 a.m. until 11 p.m. every day. Grand Banks food and bar service is available weekdays 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. to start; the partners may add lunch later. On weekends, service starts at 12 p.m.
Via Grub Street:
Workers are right now putting the finishing touches of (figurative) varnish on all 142 feet of the Sherman Zwicker, which will be docked at Pier 25 all summer long. Grand Banks, the wooden schooner's raw bar (and bar bar) component devised by former Diner and Marlow & Sons partner Mark Firth and Double Happiness restaurateur Adrien Gallo, is now set to debut next week, and a July Fourth party with half-shell oysters and Champagne will kick things off. The boat has a nice view of the Statue of Liberty, which means a great view of the fireworks.