Pleasures of the sea abound at the 20-year-old Eastchester Fish Gourmet.
We can love a restaurant that doesn’t hit the mark on every dish or in every way. Buffet de la Gare, for example, has many exquisite dishes, but we wouldn’t go there when a hankering for osso bucco hits. Dining is not a purely passive experience: we can make more or less of it by keeping our expectations appropriate and getting a feel for what to order.
If Eastchester Fish Gourmet were around the corner from us, we’d be there weekly, ordering those plump, sweet mussels in a mild herb broth or the moist, clean-tasting swordfish enhanced with an earthy white wine/wild mushroom sauce. And oh, those fish and chips! Beneath the golden crisp batter (with not even a hint of grease), lay the treasure of steamy, flaky, milky white cod. Both the fish and the accompanying chunky potato wedges were equally good dipped in the creamy tang of the tartar sauce.
We learned early on to avoid dishes whose menu descriptions held a suggestion of sweetness. This is where the food tended to lose its balance, to succumb to the sweetness. Black cod (sablefish) is certainly fatty enough to stand up to a sweet sauce, but the mild flavor and soft texture call for more balance than excess of the otherwise tasty soy-ginger caramel sauce offered.
A robust dish of garlicky tagliatelle, on the other hand, was a model of balance. Strands of the pasta plumped with the spicy crushed-tomato sauce laced their way around tender shrimp, scallops, mussels, and clams. This dish was a celebration of something. Of the pleasures of the sea? Of Italian flavors? Whatever it may be, we know it’s a party we don’t want to miss.
Eastchester Fish Gourmet was borne from the retail fish market of the same name, so it stands to reason the seafood would be of the highest quality. And what better way to judge than to order a whole fish, simply grilled? Our baramundi, with its sweet, mild flavor, was a perfect example of how good the marriage of a retail market and restaurant can be. The chef’s light hand—the fish was topped simply and classically with capers, chopped tomato, and extra-virgin olive oil—allowed the sweet flavor of the sea to shine.
Octopus was not allowed the same freedom. It was drenched in an outrageously sweet sauce and topped with unpleasantly sticky candied lemon peel. The octopus might have been anything—talapia, tuna, salmon—so obscured was its flavor.
But most dishes did not suffer the fate of the octopus. Steamed lobster was perfectly cooked and accompanied by a spectacularly good classic creamy cole slaw and baked potato. Sweet corn chowder with bits of lobster was good to the last drop, and a decently tasty shell steak was a pleasant—and for our fish-eschewing guest, a welcome—surprise.
By all means, save room for dessert—there are several excellent choices. It is here we finally found chocolate lava cake that got its ooze right and hit the right balance of bitter and sweet chocolate flavor. Pear pound cake seemed more like a bread pudding than cake—but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing: who wouldn’t love a brown-butter bread pudding studded with bits of pear? But if it’s bread pudding you’re after, you can also order the eatery’s dense, very moist version served warm and topped with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream.
The dessert menu also features soufflés, which are lovely. Indeed, we had to beg our guest for tastes of his chocolate soufflé, which was perfect in every way. (Our Grand Marnier soufflé was not as good, alas.)
Despite some missteps, Eastchester Fish Gourmet is a gem. We’ll go back and avoid savory food with sweet dishes until dessert. The heck with it—the truth is, when we go back, we’re getting that tagliatelle—and we’re going to do our best to fit in a luscious lava cake, too.
Eastchester Fish Gourmet â˜…â˜…â˜…
837 White Plains Rd, Scarsdale
(914) 725-3450; www.eastchesterfish.com
Hours: lunch Thurs and Fri 11:30-2:30 pm; dinner Sun to Thurs 5-9:30 pm, Fri and Sat 5-10:30 pm. Appetizers: $8-$12; entrées: $19-$38; dessert: $7-$10.
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good