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Sep 21, 2001 04:46 PM

The Taming of the Seafood Shy via Gramercy Tavern

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I have friend who has had some bad seafood experiences as a child and has stayed clear of it since. Unfortunate, but over the past few months, I’ve made dispelling this prejudice my personal crusade. I started her off in Chinatown and eased her in with pan-fried flounder and fried fish fillets with pork and sugar peas at Funky Broom--dishes that didn’t have that “fishy” taste which turned the poor misguided girl away in the first place. She loved them and even craves them from time to time. Just two weeks ago, I convinced her to try raw Dutch Isle oysters at Esca--which she said was “bearable”. Obviously, I had more work ahead of me. When she agreed to go to Gramercy Tavern for lunch recently, I decided that I would use the occasion to try and forward my cause some more.

Appetizers: Shrimp Ravioli with Swiss Chard and Proscuitto and Poached Tuna with Yellow Wax Beans.

Before we get to the food, I must comment on the wonderful service. The waiter came back to announce that the tuna was actually bluefin tuna and not albacore tuna as was printed on the menu. He said it probably didn’t matter, but he just wanted to me to know. The tuna was excellent so the kind of tuna, in fact, did not matter. But the fact that he took the time to clarify such a “minor” detail did. Incidentally, the tuna was so good (nothing special, but “good” as fresh tuna always is) that even my friend liked it. “You just ate raw fish,” I told her. “Oh,” she said. “It wasn’t too bad.” I tried to suppress a grin-—knowing that I had now set the stage for a future sushi introduction. Anyways, the shrimp ravioli with swiss chard that she ordered was okay. The most remarkable part of the dish actually, was the swiss chard which tasted so fresh and so pure that it seemed to take center stage.

Entrees: Guinea Hen with Cucumber and Pickled Watermelon and Roasted Halibut with Pancetta and Manilla Clams.

Again, I was hoping that the halibut would help change my friend’s unjustified aversion to fish. And it did. After eating half of our respective dishes, we switched. She was swept off her feet by the perfect crust on the halibut and the welcoming moist, smooth center. In the end, she sheepishly admitted that she loved the halibut and would think twice now before writing off seafood in the future. That evening, I went to bed happy—knowing that I had done my good deed for the day. Oh, I almost forgot. The guinea hen was good: crispy skin, moist center. Good, but not extraordinary. The pickled watermelon was sour and tasted more like pickles than watermelon.

Dessert: Panna Cotta with Fresh Strawberries and Strawberry Sorbet, Trio of Sorbet Tasting, and Trio of Ice Cream Tasting.

Here is yet another example of the fine service. My friend was having trouble deciding between the sorbets and the ice creams so he simply brought her both. The sorbets consisted of passion fruit, strawberry, and peach sorbets. The passion fruit was intense, the strawberry was the essence of sweet strawberries, but the peach sorbet, being the runt of the three in terms of flavor, did not make a strong showing. The ice creams were mint, butterscotch, and chocolate--all wonderful. Subtle and not the least bit cloying (as butterscotch can be at times). The panna cotta was also excellent and very refreshing when paired with the fresh berries and sorbet.

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  1. How amazing--pretty much the only place my partner will eat most seafood is at Gramercy Tavern! He, too, had horrendous experiences as a child (forced--really forced--to eat fish sticks!), and thought for years that he was allergic to seafood, because every time he tasted it, his mouth itched unbearably. When I noticed that he liked tuna fish, I insisted he see an allergist. An allergist told him it was a visceral response, that he is not allergic at all.

    Over the years, as a devout seafood lover, I've tried to get him beyond this response. I've had a bit of luck, but it's risky, because the response is so powerful that he really can't finish the rest of his meal. We've discovered that he loves clams (steamed), but not oysters or mussels (?!), loves shrimp (my LEAST favorite, but everyone else's fave), will tolerate Alaskan King Crab (my fave), but not lobster :-{ Salmon once in a GREAT while, tuna once in a while, but no other fin-fish.

    You've inspired me to try flounder, because that's pretty sweet. I've noticed over the years that if it's French, he tends to like it, so I'll devise a sauce--maybe a Béarnaise variation.

    It saddens me when people can't eat/don't like an entire food group!

    3 Replies
    1. re: Tom Steele

      Tom, what a kind and patient 'hound you are. You might also want to try walleye (aka in some areas as pickerel) as well as grouper. Sweet, lucious fish --my personal favorites. Let us know how the "taming" and if you have any specific successes/recipes. Will come in handy for other hounds with other fishly shy dear ones...

      1. re: berkleybabe

        i second berkeley's sentiments re: walleye. it is indeed one of the tastiest fish around.

        as one who's caught many walleye in canada and the northern US, i was pleased (and surprised) to see fresh walleye on ice at citarella on tuesday -- however, they were labeled as 'pike'...besides pickerel, i have also seen them labelled as yellow pike and perch-pike. as far as i know, walleye cannot be farmed; hence their scarcity @ fish stores.

        1. re: FattailS

          How great, the midwest delight of walleye is available in Gotham. I'd be interested to know if you go back to the store and find out what exactly they were purveying and how they got the name. This is a wonderful fish with a variety of names -gotta know them to get it wherever it's sold.