There are several benefits to living in NYC, and most of them revolve around food. For example, in NYC you will never be forced to eat stale Doritos because it’s 3am and there are no restaurants open. Nor will you have to order General Tso’s chicken from the same crappy Chinese restaurant 138 times, justifying the act with “I’m sure next time it will be delicious,” because you can order from one of the other 47 Chinese places within a one block radius until you find that perfect combination of sticky-salty-sweet goodness.
Yes, NYC has its perks. So, when hunger pains started to kick in on Wednesday night, I had one of three options typical for a New Yorker:
order take out
clothe myself in sweats and walk to the nearest casual diner
actually dress and choose from one of the 7 million restaurants that occupy the 13 mile stretch that calls itself Manhattan
Now usually I just go for option 1, mostly because I am both lazy and indecisive. Lucky for me, this time my decision was easy; my friend, knowing my love for seafood, suggested that I try a new seafood shack called BAIT & HOOK.
Now, you might think that because I grew up in New Mexico, I would consider Starkist Tuna “good” seafood. I assure you, this is not the case. I am actually quite judgmental as I have eaten fresh lobster on a tropical island in Belize, and let’s be honest, it doesn’t get much better than that. Well, BAIT & HOOK calls itself a seafood shack, so I decided to see if it lived up to my expectations.
When I first heard the location, 14th street and 2nd Ave, I must admit I was a bit wary. Any restaurant that places itself directly on 14th street is taking a risk (IHOP has a bouncer on Friday and Saturday nights to prevent drunken spectacles, case-in-point).
When I arrived, however I was impressed at the layout and décor. The open-plan space has just enough seating to entertain a good crowd without feeling cramped, and the sizable bar carries an impressive selection of beers on tap and a decent wine list.
While some seafood restaurants go overboard (no pun intended) with sea-themed décor, BAIT & HOOK’S understated nautical elements were perfectly selected and created a great ambiance.
Once seated, we ordered our vino from the very knowledgeable manager and perused the menu. Now, one of my pet peeves is a restaurant that tries to do too much. I have DMD (Decision-Making Disorder) so having a million options stresses me out and I end up ordering something totally uncharacteristic of the place I am dining at (like a burger at an Italian joint, for example). BAIT & HOOK’S menu has the perfect amount of options so as to cater to a variety of tastes, but also not to overwhelm.
Yet still, as my case of DMD is tragically strong, I had difficulty deciding what to take because everything sounded so amazing. Luckily BAIT & HOOK trains their staff to help guide patrons through the menu, and they are eager to help design individual menus, to ensure that every guest has the most enjoyable dining experience.
We decided to start with Crispy Calamari and Salmon Tartar. I am a huge fan of calamari, and granted as an appetizer staple I have my favorite spots…. but I have added BAIT & HOOK to my list. It was light and fluffy, had a great crunch yet was not over-battered (nothing is worse than doughy calamari). The tartar was fresh and flavorful, and the crème fresh added a nice zest to the salmon.
For our main courses, we chose Pan-seared Sea Scallops with a Lentil Salad and Lemon Brown-Butter Sauce and the Salmon with Red Quinoa and Pesto. Both dishes were superb. The scallops were tender and juicy, melting in your mouth. Initially I was not sold on the side of lentil salad, however after trying, it was actually a great compliment. The slightly salty salad really brought out the flavor of the scallops, and the lemon brown-butter sauce added citrus notes without being overwhelming. The salmon was cooked to medium-rare, and was delicious. The pesto was a creative garnish that I have never seen paired with salmon, and the flavors complimented each other beautifully.
We were very satisfied (and VERY full) by the end of our meal, but when we were surprised with the Rocky Road Brownie A-La-Mode and a Banana Pudding for dessert, we could not say no. The brownie was gooey and rich but not too sweet, and the vanilla ice cream was beautifully presented – complete with a cherry on top. The banana pudding was light and fluffy, with slices of fresh banana on top and a final dollop of cream for posterity’s sake.
I have to say that I was super impressed with BAIT & HOOK. They took a step away from the traditional seafood shack to offer creative dishes at reasonable prices. The flavors were all amazing, and the presentations were at the caliber of any high-end seafood restaurant. And most importantly, the ingredients were fresh. Do yourself a favor and make the trip down to BAIT & HOOK. Oh, and now that Frankenstorm (aka Hurricane Sandy) has finally blown through and civilization is back to normal (aka Seamless Web is up and running again), Bait & Shack delivers. Lucky you.
You might think that making something delicious like fried calamari is too tedious, but believe me, it is a lot easier than it seems. This recipe, courtesy of The Food Network, only takes 15 minutes of preparation time and got great user reviews.
- Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- 1 pound clean squid with tentacles, bodies cut into 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick rings
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 lemons, cut into wedges
- 1 cup simple tomato sauce, recipe follows or jarred marinara sauce, warmed
Pour enough oil into a heavy large saucepan to reach the depth of 3 inches. Heat over medium heat to 350 degrees F. Mix the flour, parsley, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Working in small batches, toss the squid into the flour mixture to coat. Carefully add the squid to the oil and fry until crisp and very pale golden, about 1 minute per batch. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the fried calamari to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.
Place the fried calamari and lemon wedges on a clean plate. Sprinkle with salt. Serve with the marinara sauce.
Simple Tomato Sauce:
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
- 2 dried bay leave
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
In a large casserole pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add celery and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and bay leaves and simmer uncovered on low heat for 1 hour or until thick. Remove bay leaves and check for seasoning. If sauce still tastes acidic, add unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon at a time to round out the flavors.
Add 1/2 the tomato sauce into the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Continue with remaining tomato sauce.
If not using all the sauce, allow it to cool completely and pour 1 to 2 cup portions into freezer plastic bags. This will freeze up to 6 months.
Yield: 6 cups
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
East of preparation: easy
◊ Post written by: CP