Non-shocker: Butcher Bay calls it quits. Looks like I'll be getting dragged to Choptank on a Lent Friday this year. (2/1/2010)
I was a little hesitant to try Butcher Bay after so many lukewarm-to-negative reviews, but generally when someone suggests trying a restaurant I’m open (as long as it’s not middling Thai). I’m not a controller of all things edible. James liked what he'd read in The Village Voice and thought it would be a good candidate for the fish on Friday tradition that I'm surprised he's still adhering to.
It turned out to be very much as I'd expected: affable, better than adequate but probably not a destination if you're not in the East Village. I'd go back if it were in my neighborhood. And the staff was unusually friendly. It’s nice to be reminded that not all servers are of the surly/spacey variety I often encounter.
There's something about the East Village that doesn't bother me as much as Carroll Gardens even though the vibe at the ungodly dining hour of 6:30 was much like ours: family time in a big way, but the breastfeeding I witnessed managed to be less self-righteous and dour and more natural and cute. Did I just say that? I don't care how un-feminist, anti-woman it makes me, I’m not crazy about public breastfeeding, there's already precious lack of privacy in the city as it is.
Hush puppies are always bready blobs that taste more of flour and cornmeal than whatever they might be flavored with. These contained shrimp and their presence was subtle.
The clam strips were meaty and chewy and the remoulade was more likeable than tartar sauce. A friend who joined James and I for dinner made a statement about bellies along the lines of them being a bit too animal-like, you know you're eating a creature (I’m extrapolating a bit here). This comes from a non-fish, non-meat-with bones eating person but I'm not going to make fun of that because she is convinced that I will always call her out for something. Not this, though. We'll get to her later…
Fish and chips. I didn't taste these but James thought they were fine and not soggy or doughy as reported somewhere I can't recall. Obviously, that criticism struck a chord with the owner because he brought it up after asking about my picture-taking. No one ever asks me why I’m snapping photos, oddly enough, and I’m not complaining. I guess it's like not staring a celebrities in public, ignore the food bloggers; they're a dime a dozen.
I'm more thrifty out of principle than pure necessity. I don't like paying over $20 for casual food for the same reason I hate buying single items of clothing over $40: because I’m cheap. So, the $24 lobster roll wasn't really my style, but I cut loose anyway. An unorthodox specimen in its seeming absence of mayonnaise but I'm not complaining since I do not love the stuff. It does work to keep the jumble of meat together, though, while this one kept losing its filling. Chopped parsley and celery rounded out the rest of the ingredients.
Ok, the friend's food. The potato salad was standard issue, fine, but the pork was on the dry side. Here's the rub: should one order pork in a restaurant that's styled itself as a seafood shack? We all have different criteria and expectations. I try not to deviate wildly from what I perceive to be an eatery's strengths unless I'm swayed by something so off and bizarre that it needs exploring. Yesterday, I resisted ordering nachos at Sukhadia’s, a vegetarian Indian chain. I’ll never know if I was wise in playing it safe or if I missed out on a rare delicacy.
I was glad to see that Sophie's, a few storefronts down, was still thriving. I will always remember it as the venue for my non-date with Henry Thomas over a decade ago and he later mentioned in a phone call, "Oh, I'm meeting some friends at Sohpie's" as if it were his spot despite the fact that he'd never heard of it until a week prior. E-List celebrities have a way of getting under your skin with their insensitivity.
It reminds me of a story I've told before about a friend who went to high school with John Stamos and in the mid-‘80s ran into him in the audience of some California production of Grease starring Belinda Carlisle. Stamos told my friend he was having a party and would call him. He. Never. Did. That, my friends, is called being Stamosed. We've all been there.
Butcher Bay * 511 E. Fifth Ave., New York, NY