I have an admission to make. I’m an Upper East Side dining snob.
I will happily traverse all over Manhattan in search of a delicious, mouth-watering meal but I always seem to avoid dining in this ridiculously affluent part of town.
The cumbersome crosstown schlep and the fur-wearing, dog-toting privileged crowd is usually all too much for my Upper West Side psyche.
But when I discover that David Burke’s Fishtail is located here, I decide to bite the bullet and make the trek.
Fishtail is, as you might have guessed, a seafood restaurant that falls under David Burke’s growing umbrella of establishments. It prides itself on being a “sustainable-friendly” restaurant, meaning 80 percent of its seafood comes from sustainable sources.
While I applaud its commitment to the environment, I must admit I was lured to dine here on the back of Burke’s whimsical, playful cooking and, of course, his signature cheesecake lollipops. But more of that later.
Fishtail is a Paris bistro style restaurant housed in a beautiful historic UES townhouse. The upstairs dining room elicits a real European flavor. Fiery red walls, bright cartoon fish paintings and chandeliers adorned with seashells give off a relaxed vibe, while the crisp white linen tablecloths suggest elegance and expensive haute cuisine.
We begin our lazy Sunday brunch with two of the restaurant’s more popular appetizers – the dry roasted “Angry Mussels” and the Kung Pao calamari.
The mussels are generously splayed out on an iron skillet the size of a child’s bicycle tyre and accompanied with the all-important lemon, garlic and chili oil sauce on the side.
The dish is deceiving simple yet features incredibly bold flavors. The steamed Nova Scotia bivalves are plump, tender and infused with the intense flavors of chili, lemon, garlic and basil. The combination is intoxicating and each element marries well with one another perfectly. Needless to say, we can’t help but wolf it down.
Unfortunately, the bold flavors inherent in the mussels is lost in our next appetizer, the Kung Pao calamari with crispy rice noodles.
The poorly-executed dish is riddled with culinary 101 mistakes and in all honesty, is rather torturous to eat. The calamari, although tender, is far too densely battered. The thick coating soaks up so much oil, we can feel our arteries clog up with each bite.
The critical flaws don’t stop there either. The crispy rice noodles are stale and the sweet chili sauce is so sickeningly sweet and sticky, it tastes like it has been poured straight from a bottle purchased at a 99c store.
The accompanying slivers of red and yellow bell peppers provide a nice color accent but the dish is beyond rescue.
Our next dish is the bay scallop carbonara with penne rustica, English peas, oven dried tomatoes and bacon. Given my aversion to cream-based sauces, I was reluctant to order this dish but boy, am I glad I did. I was pleasantly surprised.
The dish is refined, nicely composed and seasoned to perfection.
The al-dente pasta combines well with the creamy, yet light, sauce and tender scallops. The kitchen’s liberal use of garlic also works brilliantly with the sweetness of the oven-dried tomato and English peas, while the small cubes of bacon impart a smoky flavor to the dish.
Our other entree is the restaurant’s take on Huevos Rancheros, a hearty and classic Mexican breakfast dish typically consisting of fried eggs, tortillas and guacamole.
The dish is thoughtfully presented, with the egg, tomato salsa and guacamole mixture plated inside a tortilla-lined ostrich eggshell.
The eggshell sits on top of a bed of black peppercorns and rock salt and is surrounded by a generous serving of warm flour tortillas.
Sadly, the dish fails to impress. The scrambled eggs are gloopy, and when combined with the creamy guacamole and tomato salsa, leaves an unpleasant, bitter aftertaste.
As a whole, the dish doesn’t taste any better than what you could order at a local Mexican cafe. Sure, it won’t be presented in a perfectly cut ostrich eggshell, but at least there’s a chance that it’ll taste far more superior.
Having taken care of the pleasantries with our appetizers and entrees, we progress to the highly-anticipated dessert course – the restaurant’s signature cheesecake lollipops.
The dish single-handedly spurred David Burke’s astronomical rise up the dining ranks and essentially embodies his razzle-dazzle, playful style on a plate.
It might be a gimmicky dessert that diners travel halfway round the world to enjoy, but there’s a good reason they do.
The dish comprises of 10 chocolate-dipped, lollipop-shaped balls of cheesecake that are artfully arranged like branches on a custom-made metal tree. And if that isn’t whimsical enough, there’s some bubblegum flavored whipped cream that you can dip the lollipops in!
The cheesecake mixture is light, creamy and not too sweet. There are three lollipop flavors – Cherry Pink Cashmere, Three-Chocolate Tuxedo and Toffee Top Hat – and all are delicious in their own respect.
The Cherry Pink Cashmere lollipops, dipped in white chocolate and coated with crushed pistachios and sundried cherries, are a little too sweet for my liking but the subtle tartness of the cherries elevates the flavor.
The Three-Chocolate Tuxedo lollipops, dipped in white, milk and dark chocolate and coated in crushed peanuts and Reese’s Peanut Butter pieces, are delicious. The peanuts and Reese’s Peanut Butter cup pieces provide crunch, which contrasts with the smoothness of the cheesecake, and is probably my favorite of the trio.
Meanwhile, the Toffee Top Hat lollipops, dipped in milk chocolate and covered in crushed dark chocolate and Hershey’s Skor candy bars, are bittersweet and delectable.
A cluster of fresh raspberries, arranged to resemble fully ripened brown coconuts ready to fall from a tree, also hangs from the sculpture. Its addition is welcomed as it helps break up the sweetness and richness of the lollipops and refreshes your palate.
The lollipops are the obvious star attraction, but the bubblegum flavored whipped cream deserves a special mention. The small serving of the cream is out of this world and tastes exactly like the distinctive gum, with its sweet and fruit spice notes. Had it been featured on any other dessert plate, it would steal the limelight, but on this dish, it seems like an afterthought.
Evidently, we end up stripping the tree completely bare and leave the restaurant supremely satisfied. Our entrees and appetizers may have been hit-and-miss but the memorable dessert salvaged our experience.
On our way out, we are offered some of the restaurant’s signature peanut brittle from a huge jar at the hostess station. The morsel is utterly delicious and proves to be a great snack to enjoy as we schlep it back crosstown.
Fishtail by David Burke
135 East 62nd Street between Park and Lexington Avenues
Upper East Side, New York City
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
+1 212 754 1300
Lunch: Mon-Sat 12pm-3pm
Brunch: Sun 11am-3pm
Burgers: Daily 3pm-5pm
Dinner: Mon-Thurs 5pm-10pm; Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm; Sun 5pm-10pm
Supper: Mon-Thurs 10pm-11pm; Fri-Sat 11pm-12am; Sun 10pm-11pm