Sometimes it feels like there are two parallel New Yorks: the men’s New York, consisting of sports bars and barbecue joints, and the women’s New York, with its wine bars and California-light restaurants. Any guy walking into Fish Tag, the new Upper West Side seafood restaurant helmed by bad-boy chef Ryan Skeen, would find lots of single, attractive women with newly blown out hair, drinking white wine and sharing plates. But alas, all the guys seem to be next door at the grittier, meatier Sunburnt Cow. Boys: will they ever learn?
Which is too bad, because despite the inconsistencies at this new hot spot, there’s plenty to recommend Fish Tag to both genders. There are 10 craft beers on tap and even more by the bottle, rare bourbons and even more scotch. In addition to that smoked salmon, Fish Tag has a whole charcuterie board of meat, an impressive selection of cheese and a kick-ass burger.
The decor is very Sagaponack, like an upscale fish shack with slate grays, flattering lighting and brushed aluminum Navy chairs. It’s bare bones but comfortable, buzzy and full of people at eight o’clock, though oddly, there was no music on the stereo the night we were there.
Michael Psilakis consulted on the huge treatise of a menu, and some of the best dishes here have a Greek spin. The menu is so vast it’s overwhelming, despite the helpful wine pairings listed in the margins.
An excellent Greek “spoon” salad ($10) benefitted from top notch feta and black olives and some elegant shavings of fennel, radishes and cucumber. Chorizo inflected the smoky octopus ($13), pictured at top, with Spanish spiciness and an irresistible scent, balanced out by a gentle smear of pureed apple and potato underneath.
The sturgeon salad ($13) was underwhelmingly mild, however – a wallflower of a dish that seemed out of character for either Skeen or Psilakis in the kitchen.
An experimental scallop crudo topped with bone marrow ($15) was an all-out disaster, universally disliked around the table. We didn’t realize from the menu description that the marrow, too, would be cold – on top of each beautiful scallop was a round of chilled fat, with a mouth feel like cold bacon grease.
Often they do better here when they keep it simple, as with one of our favorite dishes, the grilled sea bass over a bed of wilted rapini ($23). The classic Greek preparation lets the excellent quality of the fish shine through.
I still remember the transcendent sea urchin pasta that Psilakis turned out at the old Dona, so I was doubly disappointed by the sheep milk dumplings with Jonah crab and sea urchin fonduta here ($19). Cheese, gnocchi, crab and sea urchin all together is too much of several good things, with an end result that’s cheesy, crabby and gummy, like a house party crab dip gone awry.
Surprisingly, the juicy lamb burger ($16) was the best thing we had at Fish Tag. Spiked with oregano and topped with whipped feta, it reached the pinnacle of Greek-American fusion.
Our table of women cried out in dismay because of another weirdly male touch from the kitchen: There’s no dessert menu, just ice cream. But our server with choirboy looks nicely comped us some ice cream to make up for the lack of pastry, however.
Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do? The good dishes at the ambitious Fish Tag are very good, but the ones that go wrong go totally off the tracks. Part of the problem may be due to the huge menu, which makes it difficult to keep a consistently high quality even when you’re cooking for a small room – and for diners, it makes ordering a big gamble. Let’s hope Skeen can edit it down to the dishes that really work.
222 West 79th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam
New York, NY