Saturday, February 24, 2007
Mary's Fish Camp, NYC
I've been hearing about this place for years, and tried to eat there once but hadn't wanted to wait in line. So after debating whether to go to Mary's Fish Camp or rival Pearl Oyster Bar, we opted for Mary's. We showed up at 5:45, and were the 2nd party in line. The people in front of us were a couple with a baby, so I figured well, they're early diners... But by the time 6 o'clock rolled around a substantial line had formed behind us -- young urbane non-kid-toting people who probably didn't normally dine at 6, except they knew it was the only way they'd get in to Mary's!
So with that kind of lead-up, we were expecting to be blown away. We weren't. It's not that I didn't have an enjoyable meal, but I just didn't get the hype. It's like similar complaints I've heard about places like Momofuku Noodle Bar, and what I don't get is how this kind of hype surrounding NYC restaurants can sustain itself for years, that people still line up!
First off, I'd heard so much about the lobster roll. Listed as M.P., I asked how much and it was $25 friggin' dollars! But that's what everyone around us seemed to be ordering -- an ordinary-looking small hot-dog-size bun of lobster salad with a huge pile of shoestring fries -- that's what you got for 1/4 of a C-note!
We ordered the fried smelt appetizer and a beet and fennel salad (right). I really liked both, especially eating the smelts whole -- tail and all. The salad was nicely dressed with citrus and mint. But our friend only got 3 fried shrimp atop some vinegary slaw (below) for $11.
Then we shared the bouillabaise (top). The mussels in it were excellent, but the lobster was bland. My friend felt everything else -- scallops, fish, squid -- was overcooked, though I didn't think it was that bad. My friend thought the broth was too strong for bouillabaise, but I liked the spiciness.
It's just, for me, the biggest disconnect is that Mary's is trying to mimic a New England seafood shack, but at fancy restaurant prices. But I guess that's what New Yorkers are willing to pay for some faux experience. Well not just New Yorkers, I have the same complaint about the Blue Point Grill in Princeton -- I don't want to wait an hour and pay $24 for a piece of grilled fish!
I'd rather take a drive up to Cape Cod, sit by the side of the road and dig into some fried oysters and steamers from a paper tray. It just seems to taste better that way... It reminds me why I prefer eating at dives over nice restaurants. For seafood envy check out these places and this place blogged by BrookLEn.
My friend tells me then after consulting a fellow foodie that he said Pearl's is better, and we should try there next time. Anyone been to both and have an opinion?