Tuesday night (last week), we baked for some friends who were going out of town. Wednesday night, we prepared for Thanksgiving. Thursday night, we consumed Thanksgiving. Friday morning we baked pies. Friday night, we consumed another Thanksgiving meal at a friend’s place. Saturday, we were sick of the kitchen.
Truly, from Tuesday evening straight through Friday afternoon, basically the only time we left our kitchen was to sleep or go to the bathroom. Now, we like our kitchen; we like it a lot. But by the end of the fourth day it began to seem cagelike.
Saturday, a gloriously sunny day, we made an excursion up to Acacia Vineyard. We’re members of the club there, and had to run up to pick up a shipment. We had a quick round of tasting, and a (now twice–depicted here) leftover turkey sandwich in the car. By the time we got home, we couldn’t bear the thought of cooking.
Having just emerged from two Thanksgivings, the very concept of meat was anathema. My palate wanted a 180º turn from turkey, stuffing and gravy. I wanted light, clean flavors. I wanted seafood.
We had been meaning to check out (the clumsily-named) Pescheria Joey & Eddie’s, which opened last month in the former Yianni’s space down on lower Church Street, but had given them some time to work out the inevitable kinks post-opening. This seemed like as good a time as any.
Pescheria’s space is airy, with Mediterranean overtones. White walls with blue tile accents call to mind the Greek isles (perhaps remnant from Yianni’s) or, more appropriately, the Adriatic coast. Two tables are propped out front under an awning with a heat lamp, sheltered from passersby on the sidewalk.
We were greeted promptly and pleasantly (small wonder, as the hostess appeared to have little to do all evening but smile and wait for people to come in), and immediately seated at a table in the front window. We started off with a glass each of prosecco while we perused the menu.
I wanted seafood, and seafood I got. The menu, in fact, is pretty much exclusively fish and shellfish, though our server did alert us to one special that was beef (filet mignon, I think?). Evidently some customers grumbled about the lack of meat options. Do you suppose they lament the lack of seafood on the menu at a steakhouse? Probably not.
I started with the octopus, potato and artichoke salad, served room temperature. This kind of dish by design should make me happy. I love octopus, and this kind of triad of ingredients is exactly up my alley. Unfortunately, the octopus was rather tough. Scratch that — completely rubbery. I picked around it, eating the tender discs of new potato and almost too-al-dente artichokes. DPaul mentioned that tough octopus came up in more than one user review. (I hadn’t read any.)
Now here’s the thing. My plate went back to the kitchen with a goodly amount of octopus — and nothing else — left on it. That should be a clear message to the kitchen or at least the server. However, our server never bore witness to that message, as it was whisked away by the restaurant’s scowling, grunting and almost frightening busboy. If the kitchen noticed, well, it never made it back to me.
DPaul, on the other hand, had the clams casino, which were rather good. Whereas too often do you get a cakey mass of oil-soaked bread crumbs compressed into the cavity of a half shell, these had a feathery mound of lightly oiled crumbs over a tender clam. Recommendable.
The roles got slightly reversed with the entrées. DPaul (who, truth be told, is not a big seafood fan — the things he does for me!) had the spaghetti aglio olio. This is one of those deceptive dishes. It sounds like simplicity itself: Spaghetti, garlic, olive oil, done! However, once dressed, the pasta rapidly sucks up the oily sauce. It’s pretty hard to serve in a restaurant setting. The trick is to use some of the pasta water to bind the oil into a sauce. DPaul’s spaghetti did seem dry and underdressed, though it was probably perfect when it left the kitchen. He kept drizzling bits of olive oil from the little ramekin meant to accompany bread.
I had the sea bass, which came with some braised vegetables (arugula, fennel and sunchoke, if memory serves), a dollop of tapenade and a big drool of romesco sauce. The fish was done well (as opposed to being well-done), tender and moist. The vegetables were refreshingly bitter against the blandness of the fish and the saltiness of the tapenade. The sunchoke gave a nice crunch to contrast the softness of the bass. The romesco was … colorful.
Both of my dishes contained what I thought to be a rather enormous amount of olive oil. The entrée in particular was almost swimming in it. I’ve been to Italy enough times to recognize this as a not-unauthentic approach, but I felt it was still a bit over-oily. Maybe they could have spared some from my dish to add to DPaul’s.
With our appies and mains we each had a glass of white wine — Basque Txakolin for DPaul and Umbrian Trebbiano for me. I like their wine list, and it’s clearly carefully planned to pair with a variety of seafood. I also like that they characterize the wines by region, giving you a sensual descriptive of what to expect. I.e., wines from the Adriatic and Mediterranean coasts are crisp and redolent of sea air; wines from the highlands are flinty and dry, and so on.
I rarely have high expectations for dessert, least of all in a seafood restaurant. The selections were somewhat pedestrian: DPaul had a tiramisù and I had the cannoli. I am not a tiramisù kind of guy. I’m just weird that way. I usually find it too creamy, too sweet, unremarkable. Pescheria’s was better than normal. The creaminess of the mascarpone was in balance with the coffee-soaked cake, and none of it was too sweet. I would actually order it on a return visit. The cannoli? Well, it’s hard to make a cannolo I don’t love. Luckily, they didn’t. Still, I could live without the ’80s squeezebottle Jackson Pollock thing.
We ordered grappa with our dessert. This is where our server, who was perfectly delightful throughout the meal, really stood out. DPaul had ordered the Villa de Varda Viola. He assumed, as I did, that it would have a faintly floral aroma, something he likes in a grappa. Our server hemmed a moment, and said that maybe it would be wise to taste it first. she brought an infinitesimal amount in a shot glass, along with the bottle to show. To call this stuff grappa is really stretching it. It may start out as grappa, but it is then infused with violets and sweetened. It is intensely floral, like drinking perfume. Old lady perfume. It’s not that it’s actually unpleasant, but that it is so potent as to blow out any other sensory input. Had she served him a full pour of the stuff alongside the rich coffee flavors of tiramisu, it would have been a disaster.
Instead, he got one that had been aged in wooden casks, leaning it slightly into the cognac arena. It had a smooth burn that gently warmed the mouth. My grappa di moscato by contrast was white-hot and peppery, and played against the fruit-nut flavors of the cannoli.
Inconsistencies in the food aside, we’ll be back. the quality overall was still higher than I anticipated, especially on the service front. I am also pleased to have access to a decent seafood place within easy reach and with reasonable prices.
Pescheria Joey & Eddie’s
1708 Church Street (at 29th)