Some say a negative review is better than no review at all. What stands out even more is a lone negative review in a sea of positive ones.
Sam Sifton of New York times shocked the dining world when he awarded Michael Psilakis’s new restaurant Fishtag a “fair” review, the equivalent of 0 stars. Up to that time, most of his controversial reviews were on the high side. The blogosphere lit-up quickly as people chimed in with their opposite viewpoints. I had to give it a try.
Despite the poor rating from the New York Times, a table was not quite easy to come by. Located in the basement of a white townhouse, it wasn’t easy to spot, but with ample foot traffic on 79th street, quite a few people were getting turned away without a reservation.
The menu is unconventional, but not difficult to understand. Going from light to heavy from top to bottom, appetizers are in red, and entrée potions are in black. On the margins, suggested pairings. The back of the menu shows a plethora of drink options.
The wait staff at Fishtag are very friendly and helpful, perhaps more than aware that they need to work hard and change people’s perspective on the restaurant after the NY Times review. I asked which dishes were the most viciously panned by Sifton, as I wanted to try those for myself. Suggestions were quickly given along with the negative adjective used by Sifton to describe each plate. Nasty sea urchin? bring it on!
The sea urchin was exactly what arrived first, in a vessel that can best be described as a petri dish on a martini glass stem. Bizarre appearance aside, the mix of ocean water (is it really? or just salt water?), lemon juice and pink peppercorns combined to give it a fantastic flavor.
The other red-text labeled appetizers were all unique and bold in flavors. The paella soup had an orzo based seafood paella in a tiny paella pan, with the soup poured on table side. The smoked octopus with chorizo and pomme puree had a nice smoky flavor and soft delicate texture.
Tilefish crudo (the 3rd crudo on the menu, he must be fond of crudos) looked slightly awkward on the plate, as it looked like there was simply too much going on, which it was. The complex seasonings of piquillo peppers, muscat grapes, shishito aioli took away from the natural delicate flavors of the fish, making it one of the less memorable dishes of the meal.
Onto the main course, which compared to the appetizers were distinctly more casual fare. The mussels & pigs feet resembles a familiar mussel pot, flavored by Tuscan kale and tomato broth.
Grilled branzino and the striped bass both were grilled with a nice charred exterior, while still moist and flaky on the inside. Both were very solid entrées, however the charring is definitely on the heavy side. Fans of protein over an open flame will appreciate the flavors, just keep in mind this isn’t grilling fish like the French do it.
No, there’re no dessert menus, deal with it.
Fishtag was quite an enjoyable meal, with solid food, affordable prices, and unique Greek cuisine (provided you don’t live in Astoria). It’s unfortunate that it received a poor review, a review that I definitely do not agree with. Luckily in today’s world, a newspaper review has a relatively short shelf-life, and restaurants can redeem themselves with the bloggers, Yelpers, and other reviews. This entry is a start.
What does this rating mean?
FishTag (Make a Reservation)
222 W. 79th St.
New York, NY 10024