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Mermaid Inn - ho hum

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  • rrems Dec 16, 2007 05:45 PM

I needed a place to have a late dinner after a movie in the east village last night. so I did some research on this board and on Menupages. Mermaid has lots of positive reviews and no serious negatives, so we gave it a try. Judging by the seemingly happy mob of customers, I can only assume that no one cooks at home or has a clue how to do it. Is it too much to expect that a restaurant should be able to provide an experience that I would have difficulty duplicating at home? The food was not bad but was totally ordinary and lacking in creativity. I can buy a beautiful piece of fish from Citarella and with a simple preparation make a much more interesting and tasty meal than I had here. We started with fried oysters (tasty batter but tasteless oysters) and sardines (well-seasoned but in a bland broth with white beans and carrot bits), for main course skate with a blood orange emulsion (this sounded promising but was bland compared to the skate dish I make with lime, basil, capers and parsley) and the lobster sandwich ($24 for a small amount of lobster on a roll with fries) that was perfectly edible but also rather bland. The freebie chocolate pudding had little chocolate flavor. Overall a totally underwhelming dinner.

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  1. Mermaid Inn is a decent neighborhood restaurant but I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to eat there.

    1. I started a recent post on the UWS location. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/464772
      This place has so much wasted potential that it is sad really.

      1. I had a few great experiences at the one in the EV...Love love loved the pasta with salad on top...ALso thought the mussles were the best...

        So, when i heard they were opening an upper west side locations i was psyched...

        I think they did a great job with the place...our waitress was awesome...But my pasta on the salad on top was not as enjoyable as the one as i had eaten in the EV...I was also disappionted with the mussles...I hope they get their act together...

        1. i just went once a few months ago...had the lobster sandwich which was pretty meh...the bun was terrible...kind of stale. the fries were good though.

          1. "Is it too much to expect that a restaurant should be able to provide an experience that I would have difficulty duplicating at home?"

            Well, actually, yeah, I don't think that's a fair standard in general, at least if you're more than a barebones, get-food-on-the-table cook yourself. Lobster is * always * expensive in restaurants - it's juts a given, like it or not. And in my experience it's absolutely not something to order just because it happens to be on a menu. (I order lamb very rarely for the same reason. I shudder wondering how neighborhood Chinese restaurants manage that when maybe two dozen people order the dish in a year...

            Unless a place is on the pricey side or puports to offer particular specialties, why would you expect a "noteworthy" meal every time you eat out? I think that's one definite downside of the latter-day food-as-lifestyle thing - everyone expects every dish and every meal to provide some sort of "experience" rather than just being a decemt/pleasant/whatever "meal."

            Now, poorly prepared food is another thing, but that's different from your opening salvo, as it were and it's not entirely clear to me what your standard is when you call things tasteless or bland...

            2 Replies
            1. re: MikeG

              So you apparently don't expect much from a restaurant where a dinner for 2 costs upwards of $120. I do. There are restaurants that for this much or less (Crispo, Punch, Nice Matin, just to name a few) manage to produce dishes that make me say "mmm, this is really tasty food". Yes I am more than a barebones, get-food-on-the-table cook, and that is exactly my point. That the only people I could imagine praising this restaurant can't or don't cook at home. If a chef in a not-cheap restaurant can't or won't bother to come up with flavorful, interesting dishes, I hardly think that says anything good about the chef or the restaurant. If your only purpose in going out to restaurants is to be fed, you can do it for a lot less money. I was not expecting "noteworthy", but I was not expecting dull either.
              As for the lobster, why put it on the menu if it is not worth ordering? We ordered it not "because it happens to be on the menu" but because we expected that if it is on the menu it should be worth ordering. I can't imagine what the confusion is about the meaning of "bland".

              1. re: rrems

                "So you apparently don't expect much from a restaurant where a dinner for 2 costs upwards of $120"

                No argument there, though these days in Manhattan that's scarily close to many places beyond diner if you get a "full" meal with alcohol. (sigh) I've never eaten at Mermaid Inn, nor been tempted, so I didn't have their price range in mind. From the way you said "looking for a late dinner after a movie", I guess I was thinking more middle-of-the-road since the rest of your post seemed to be a more general complain. My bad. ;)

            2. I am not a fan. To be fair I have only been once and the service was excellent. This place is on my overrated list. And now there's one on the UWS too. Such a shame because I really like The Harrison which has the same owners. Maybe my expectations were too high and it's just a good neighborhood place, and that's okay.

              2 Replies
              1. re: financialdistrictresident

                Overrated describes it perfectly. I hadn't realized that the Harrison was under the same ownership, which is a bit surprising, but they also own Red Cat which IMO is not special either. The Harrison is a restaurant that I feel does a great job, though it is a bit pricy. I am waiting for the new chef to get settled in before I go back. I don't think your expectations were too high, at these prices it's not just a neighborhod place and you should expect better.

                1. re: rrems

                  thanks, rrems you just saved me a trip to Red Cat. I agree The Harrison is not an everyday place for most people. We also can and do cook at home which impacts my expectations regarding quality and price when dining out.

              2. I recently went to to the EV branch, had the exact same meal as you, and found it to be equally ho hum. The skate was cooked perfectly, to their credit, but found that the orange emulsion did nothing to amplify the flavor of the fish. Oysters were good, but what fried seafood item isn't usually? I did not try their lobster roll, which is something people talk about, but then again, I'd probably just as well go to Tides or Mary's or POB. I didn't have a bad time there, but i just wouldn't feel compelled to return.

                1. I never understood the buzz about the Mermaid inn. I went a few times and have been nothing but underwhelmed, though the service has been very nice. I agree that the fried oysters tasted just like fry and when I had them they looked pathetic. The lobster sandwich was terrible, I could not eat half of it both times I tried it. And the pudding is tasteless. It is too bad, i want to like the place, but don't.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: maxine

                    Wow, I'm starting to wonder about the advice given on this website in general. Look, you're paying $20 for a generous portion of fresh, well executed seafood in Manhattan. No, the chef isn't Thomas Keller, but I think he does a good job of putting together flavor combinations that enhance but not overwhelm the delicate flavors of most seafood. Guess what? Skate isn't that flavorful of a protein, period. What do you want Bobby Flay do drench it in smoked paprika and then serve it with a chipotle coulis and ancho molasses on the side?

                    1. re: lukebdonnelly79

                      You are entitled to your opinion about skate, but if you tasted it as I prepare it, I think you might change your mind. It is possible to make fish delicious without covering its natural flavor. Not overwhelming the flavor of the seafood is the excuse chefs use to excuse not making any effort to enhance it.

                      1. re: rrems

                        I actually do think every meal can be an experience in NY. It may be the autumn tasting menu at Jean Georges or it may be a perfect slice from Joe's or hotdog from Gray's Papya but it can always be special. There are even places I prefer to go at off hours and with the newspaper (Grand Sichuan for example) where I don't want an intense experience, but the meals are still special. There are too many great cooks and ingredients in NYC to waste a meal on something mediocre. And of course, if your tastes are really specific, cook it yourself. Happy Eating!