Blue Water Grill (NYC) – Great Food & Atmosphere

We were looking for a new restaurant for the family to try in the Union Square area and after some research decided on the Blue Water Grill. There were reservations available, the on-line menu contained items that would work for everyone and the interior photos looked like the restaurant offered a high-vibe atmosphere.

The restaurant occupies a building that formerly housed a bank, the first floor is somewhat narrow, with the bar in the front with both stools and tables, a large dining area behind, plus a balcony in the rear that contains 40-50 seats. There is a separate restaurant on the lower level with live jazz, the same menu, and a separate reservation is required. We arrived for our 730 reservation and were asked to give them a few minute since the table was not quite ready. After a five minute wait we were escorted to a great table on the second floor balcony overlooking the first floor, which we preferred since the noise level was more moderate, allowing for conversation.

Our server immediately approached and asked for our water preference and let us get settled in. Upon her return she asked for our wine or cocktail orders and we chose two dirty Tito martinis and a diet Coke.

The menu is very focused on seafood. The entire top half describes raw bar items, plus sushi, sashimi and maki rolls. There is one soup (changes daily), two salads and other small plates, plus about fifteen larger selections, again mainly seafood focused.

I ordered the Mini Fish Tacos with red cabbage slaw and Hass avocado ($12.00) for my appetizer and the Brown Butter Roasted Grouper (the on-line menu states Halibut) with Szechuan peppers, wheat berry, Tuscan kale and chimichurri ($30.00) for my entrée. The three others at the table ordered the Greenmarket Salad, served with caramelized pecans, radishes, green apple, and finished with shallot vinaigrette ($13.00) and for their entrée they each order the Crispy Skin Faroe Island Salmon, with baby bok choy, tatsoi and miso yuzu emulsion ($29.00).

The tacos arrived on a 6-inch square cedar plank, yes they were mini. The tortilla was whole grain with a small piece of fish, avocado, slaw, a thin slice of jalapeño pepper and a sprig of cilantro. There was great flavor in the tacos, the slaw and fish were nicely balanced and the pepper was a complement to the other ingredients. The three salads that my family ordered were large, filled with a plethora of ingredients and they agreed it was a great salad.

The entrées were delicious. The wheat berry salad was blended with a vinegar based sauce, plus a bit of butter, both were delightful complements to the fish. The Tuscan kale was sautéed and was a great addition as well. The biggest drawback to the dish was the fish pieces that were chosen, they were two scraps, instead of a single larger filet. The “fish sticks” were irregular in shape causing areas to be perfectly cooked, while other sections were over cooked. I could not taste any of the Szechuan pepper (this may have been a good thing) and the small dollop of Chimichurri lightly covered one of my fish sticks, and its vinegar could be tasted in the wheat berry. The salmon were each a nice sized filet with the crispy skin as described and my family loved the combination of flavors.

For dessert we shared a Flourless Chocolate Layer Cake with candied kumquats and orange gelato ($11.00). It was excellent, with the addition of some chocolate crunchies throughout and the gelato was incredibly creamy, and mild in its orange flavor, allowing the cake to remain the centerpiece of the dish.

Our server was very friendly, did not rush us during the ordering phase and was very efficient in receiving the orders. Unfortunately, while all of the tables around us received bread, we were never offered bread, and we needed to ask for it after our appetizers were served. More disturbing was the timing of the courses. We were barely finished with the appetizers when the entrees arrived, there was no pause between the courses, plate off, plate on, a major timing mistake by the staff and kitchen.

Overall, the evening at Blue Water was a great time with family and food. The chef combined great, complementary flavors that were delicious. I do resent the pieces of grouper the kitchen selected for my entrée, trimmings should be discarded served in a $30 dish and the lack of downtime between courses, but otherwise, Blue Water was one best evenings in several years.

Novita (NYC) – Excellent Gnocchi with Lamb

Novita is located a few doors east of South Park Avenue on East 22nd. You step down a couple of steps to enter the restaurant with the main dining area to the left and an alcove dining area directly in front. A long bar occupies the area immediately upon entering.

The main dining area is packed with tables, they are incredibly close together; two people can barely pass simultaneously. The alcove has two banquettes and two tables for two guests. We were seated in the alcove. It has its pluses and minuses. It is a bit less noisy but the quality of service is noticeably lacking, almost an afterthought to the staff. There were several times I needed to look for our server. If you would like to feel that you are part of the vibrant restaurant scene, ask for the main dining room.

For my appetizer I ordered the “Caprese,” one of the specials for the evening, and for my entrée I ordered the “gnocchi con stinco d’agnello” described as gnocchi with slow-braised Jamison Farm lamb shank.

The Caprese contained slices of tomato, a Burrata round that was halved and a sprig of basil. Bottles of Balsamic and Olive oil were brought to the table and I drizzled the salad with each. Visually the kitchen did not seem to care. The Burrata was more hacked in half than sliced, the tomato slices were haphazardly cut and the basil was thrown on top. The Burrata was OK. There was far too much exterior and the creaminess that you desire from the interior was scant. The tomatoes were good, nothing special and the basil was full of flavor.

The gnocchi was delicious. The ricotta gnocchi were soft, well prepared with just a hint of ricotta. They were topped with an incredibly delicious lamb ragu. The meat was tender and rich in flavor and the deep flavors of the lamb was a perfect complement to soft, pillowy texture of the gnocchi. My one complaint was the amount of lamb, it was minimal and I wish there was more.

Service was spotty. I almost felt we were assigned the “kids’ table.” The server checked in rarely and I needed to call for him whenever we needed something since we were out of eyeshot. Overall I enjoyed Novita. The next time I would ask for a table in the main dining area so I do not feel for $75-100 per person we are being punished.

Novita on Urbanspoon

Craftbar – Great Vibe and Some Excellent Choices

(Sorry for the lack of photos…it was a family event)

Located on Broadway, three blocks north of Union Square, Craft Bar is a bustling restaurant with excellent service and delicious food. The restaurant has a constant vibe that gives great energy to the atmosphere. There are both booths and tables, but be forewarned on the booths, they are long and four people occupy only three of the sides so the two people on each end are fairly far apart. If you are looking for conversation amongst all four guests, opt for a table which are much more intimate and allow for easy conversation. We did, and the four of us spent three relaxing, unrushed hours enjoying many of the dishes.

Our server was excellent, knowledgeable, friendly, and was quick to offer suggestions, and each of his recommendations were perfect. The only drawback to the service was what I would describe as aggressive bussers; maybe they were assigned too many tables but they constantly reached across the table versus walking around. These intrusions were disruptive to the flow of the conversation. They need instructions to just walk behind each guest versus intrude.

We immediately ordered both the Cheese and Meat assortments to enjoy as we looked through the numerous small and large plate offerings.

The meats consisted of Pastrami Wagyu Beef Tongue (brined & confit beef tongue with pastrami spice) with a dab of spicy beer mustard; Chicken Liver Paté (roasted and puréed with shallot and bourbon) with strawberry jam; Country Pate (Duroc pork, morello cherry and quatre epices) with cherry mostarda; and Smoked Pig’s Head Terrine (brined and smoked pig head) with pickled mustard seed and Calabrian chile. The first two were exceptional. The thin slices of tongue were melt in your mouth tender with rich flavor and the paté was decadently delicious, smooth and rich with flavor. The slice of the country pate brought a good amount of flavor but was not in the same league as the first two and the Smoked Pig’s Head was more about texture than flavor, it was overly gelatinous and delivered no flavor.

The five cheeses included portions of Harbison (Cow) from Jasper Hill, Greensboro, VT; Pawlet (Raw Jersey Cow) from Consider Bardwell Farm, West Pawlet, VT; San Andreas (Raw Sheep) from Bellwether Farm, Sonoma County, CA; Hudson Red (Raw Cow) from Twin Maple Farm, Ghent, NY; and Point Reyes Bay Blue (Cow) from Point Reyes Farmstead, West Marin, CA. Each of these was delicious, and choosing one as a favorite is difficult as everyone at the table enjoyed all of them.

For my appetizer I ordered the Marinated Montauk Squid with lentil salad, pickled shallots, and pickled celery. This was a very refreshing dish, with beautiful colors and vibrant flavors. The amount of squid was scant, almost to the point of a scavenger hunt halfway through the course and I would have preferred much more squid. For those who are adventurous there is a duck heart and dumpling option. My daughter ordered the hearts and they were prepared medium rare; the flavor and texture reminded me of liver with incredibly rich, almost gamey flavor. The Lumache Pasta with a Bolognese Duroc pork Ragu, soffritto, and Parmigiano was very good. I really liked the choice of the pasta which held the sauce perfectly. I found the Bolognese was a little too salty but it was rich in flavor. The highlight of the meal was the Veal Breast Roulade, which was served with a potato purée, Hen of the Woods mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, and watercress. I rarely find a veal breast on any menu and I asked the server his opinion prior to ordering. He smiled and said he never had a problem recommending this dish. He was correct. The veal was tender, with incredible flavor and the accompaniments were excellent choices to add flavor and texture. This rendition receives a perfect ten in my books.

Leave room for dessert as one of the choices, the Blueberry & Almond Cake with candied ginger purée, toasted almond Anglaise was outstanding and also recommended by our server. With loads of butter, this cake is slightly crispy on the exterior but the softness and flavors of the cake was outstanding and the blueberries added the sweet component. I would eat several pieces with a cup of coffee. Not in the same league was the Praline Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream, and Candied Pecans. The flavors did not work well together, almost fighting each other. I would shy away from the Chocolate Cake.

I would absolutely return to Craft Bar and try other dishes. I really enjoyed the evening.

Craftbar on Urbanspoon