When they say fresh, it’s definitely no fish tale
Many restaurateurs rely on specialty wholesalers to bring them high-quality seafood. Not Rick Ross of the Eastchester Fish Gourmet in Scarsdale.
Three or four days a week, he gets up in the middle of the night to get to the Fulton Fish Market just as it opens, to buy the very finest, freshest fish from the “top of the catch.” Not many restaurants can buy directly. “You have to buy hundreds of pounds,” explains Ross. “We buy a whole swordfish at 180 pounds, bring it back here, and cut it ourselves.”
The secret is a retail operation that gives Ross sufficient volume. He started selling fish retail in 1979, added a modest restaurant in 1987, and had the restaurant made over in 1997 by the same designer who created Union Square CafÃ© in Manhattan. The result is an elegant dining room, with cherry floors, a limestone marble bar, and mahogany windows.
The wine program is quite good with fair prices and a nice selection of half-bottles, such as Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc from California and the Willakunzie Pinot Gris from Oregon. The by-the-glass list is also good, with six choices each of white and red. When I asked about two different Chardonnays, the waiter brought me a taste of each to help me decide. Nice touch.
Soon after warm rolls were served, our waiter delivered a delicious treat: two toasted bruschettas topped with warm white beans and salt cod, finished with olive oil. The Maryland jumbo lump crabcake was excellent—large, meaty and golden brown, served with a light dill mustard sauce, sweet red pepper preserve, and pretty green pea shoots. The two-minute calamari wasn’t a hit at my table—it just wasn’t that well matched to the flavors of tomato sauce, black currants and jalapeÃ±o pesto.
Some of the favorites from the original restaurant menu are still around: Maine steamers, trout almondine and fish and chips. The last is one of the restaurant’s most requested dishes: You can tell by all the plates coming out heaped with deep-fried cod and hunky steak fries. The dish is served with a tartar sauce but ask for the malt vinegar as well.
More innovative dishes include the fabulously successful whole stuffed branzino, a Mediterranean sea bass that is white-fleshed and somewhat fatty. The creation of the restaurant’s new chef, David DiBari, most recently of Mario Batali’s highly touted Babbo, the fish is boned and stuffed with fennel, gaeta olives and shiitake mushrooms, seasoned with lemon and garlic, pan-seared, then finished in the oven. It is served whole, with head and tail, and the flavors are perfectly balanced. A special, skate wing, got lost in the strong flavors of the curried wild rice and coconut blood orange reduction. (Of course, there is roasted organic chicken and sirloin steak if someone in the party doesn’t like fish.)
The desserts are excellent: French bread pudding served warm over crÃ¨me anglaise and raspberry sauce, and a high-quality chocolate lava cake (molten on the inside), served with vanilla ice cream in toasted hazelnut tuile—a super-thin “cookie” molded into a basket shape. The cappuccino was fresh and richly flavored—a great way to finish a really good meal.
During the winter months, Eastchester Fish Gourmet offers one of Westchester’s best dining bargains: a prix-fixe menu for $19.95 (including appetizer, entrÃ©e, dessert and coffee) between 5 and 6:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. It’s not on now—but never mind. It’s only one of many reasons to go.
EASTCHESTER FISH GOURMET
837 White Plains Road, Scarsdale
Lunch, Thurs. and Fri. 11:30-2:30 pm
Dinner, Sun. to Thurs. 5-9:30 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5-11 pm