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Having spent my college years in Boston, I got used to seafood restaurants where the “catch of the day,” really was caught that morning. So when I first returned to New York, I tended to avoid seafood restaurants, knowing the experience was destined to be inferior to my New England memories. Of course, much has changed in the past two decades, and New York boasts some truly excellent fish houses, such as Oceana, where chef Jason Bunin put in some time before heading over to the just-opened, cleverly-named C.Review By: Brian Scott Lipton
Located on the slightly hidden side street spot that previously housed Alamo and then Ola, C is a vast, rather narrow space that has been decorated in tropical colors that let you believe, at least for a second or two, that you’re in the sunny Caribbean rather than snowy New York. But its owners are not from the Islands, they’re from Long Island -- so it’s far from surprising that C pays special care to its wine list, which offers a large number of unusual vintages by the glass.
Bunin’s overall approach is to provide unusual twists on classic dishes – and his inventions work far more often than not. “Nachos” are miles away from Tex-Mex cheesiness; here, fresh taro chips are topped with slices of luscious smoked salmon, crème fraiche, onion, egg, capers and lumpfish caviar. Purists might find his lobster bisque not quite thick enough for their liking, but everyone else will likely be pleased with this flavorful soup, generously studded with pieces of lobster, corn kernels and tomato chunks.
His most daring experiment is a ceviche that combines merluza, a cod-like fish, scallops, tomato and pieces of wild strawberry in a marinade of white balsamic vinegar. Unfortunately, the sweetness of the strawberry pieces overwhelms the dish, but if you lay them aside, you’ll discover that their juice provides a nice balance to the vinegar and the ceviche really comes together.
While listed as an appetizer, his well-made jumbo crab cake served atop a really appealing toss of watercress and onion coated in a yellow pepper vinaigrette makes a nice light supper. And while it may sound blasphemous to pass on such seafood entrees as crispy dorado or bouillabaisse, Bunin’s creation of shredded crispy pork tossed with fried onion and homemade pickled jalapenos, and nestled in a creamy bed of pureed white sweet potato that is napped in a just-kicky-enough red bean sauce is nothing short of a revelation.
The dessert selection is relatively limited, and if Bunin has any say in the matter, you’ll choose his chocolate soufflé for two (which must be ordered 20 minutes in advance). It’s not soufflé-airy, but it is deliciously goeey and rich, and made even more decadent by its accompanying ramekins of homemade whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Like everything else at C, it’s definitely not average.
Neighborhood: East 40s
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