When it comes to dining in New York there are plenty of fish in the sea. And navigating these waters, especially for seafood, can be treacherous. Of course, there are fish institutions like Mary's Fish Camp, mega restaurants like Oceana, and seafood surprises like Ed's Chowder. You also have hot newcomers like the John Dory and old standbys like Randazzo's in Sheepshead Bay. And then there are the ones that start out strong but sink fast like Choptank, which is now, well, swimming with the fishes. So, when wading in these waters one needs to be very careful and test the current.
Pier 9 in Hell's Kitchen seems to have done all of that. The restaurant's nautical theme is evident immediately upon entering. A giant sale hangs above a blue lit bar, and a ladder appears to climb to a crow's nest. There are bulky wooden tables and clear lucite seats, and little nooks for private dining, each marked by a number you might find on a buoy in the open sea. The crowd here is lively and fun, and the staff hospitable and friendly. Chef Eric Hara and partner Chris Lamotta have done a great job creating a place where families with kids and fashionistas can each feel at home.
Pier 9's menu is also a pure joy. It begins with delicious fresh-from-the-oven corn bread that is terrific slathered with butter. Start with some shrimp tacos ($12), razor clam ceviche ($13), or a jumbo shrimp cocktail (14). Fried oyster mini "po girls" ($12) are succulent served with pickled chili, while the the Berkshire pork belly buns with cucumber kimchi and an oyster shooter ($12) are to die for. Grilled octopus ($8) with a tomato and caper relish is smoky and surprisingly tender.
The fish theme also extends to entrees which include surf-and-turf with bacon-wrapped filet mignon ($29+), seared scallops in a celery root puree ($23) and sourdough crusted striped bass ($25). We opted for a grilled lobster served with a tasty green curry sauce, and beer battered cod in a bucket loaded with crispy fries ($19). The Ipswich clam and calamari basket is also a good choice, albeit a bit greasy, and goes well with a nicely chilled Belfast Bay "Lobster Ale".
Desserts, or "happy endings" as they're called here, include a s'mores doughnut filled with marshmallow and ice cream and drizzled with chocolate syrup ($7) that my son quickly devoured, and a chocolate pretzel sundae with tapioca pudding and caramel sauce ($8) that his mom and I devoured. At this point, we were so full that our ship was about to tip over.
Pier 9 is worth diving into, and it should only get better as the warm weather brings the dining outdoors on the sidewalk and a patio.