Every day this week, we'll feature a Shitshow Week Review—an assessment of a restaurant that at first glance seemed totally and completely off the rails.
"It's not a shitshow, but I'm sad that fish had to die for our meal," is what a friend offered as an assessment of Fishtag, Michael Psilakis' serviceable but somewhat sad Upper West Side restaurant. Not to spoil the ending of this, but she's was pretty much right.
And yet, in the following argument, the case will be made that there are enough shitshow elements here to bring Fishtag right to the brink. After all Ryan Skeen may be gone, but his fingerprints are still all over this sucker:
Exhibit A: The Table
[Brick wall, stack of chairs]
Though there were other openings, we were sat in probably the worst table in that small windowless dining room, all the way to the front of the room, sidled in next to a brick wall and a stack of chairs.
Exhibit B: The Menu:
The menu is not as amusing as previous iterations (which offered sea urchin served in a martini glass full of sea water), but it's still fairly absurdist. Appetizers are listed in red, entrees in black. The menu is arranged from lightest to heaviest apparently, to aid in the pairing of drinks (which are recommended in the margins). The priority of a complicated menu should most definitely be drink pairings. Meanwhile the wine list is just randomly done up in red and black, to an almost seizure-inducing effect. "I hope you're not color blind," our waiter said cheerfully.
Exhibit C: The Cocktail:
They graciously accommodated my friend's request for a so-called mocktail. As for my "spiced Manhattan," it came dotted with chunks of cloves, not an improvement on the classic drink and not pretty when you happen to get a big piece of clove in your mouth.
Exhibit D: The Food:
Apps: We had the Bacala & Skordalia Brandade "Melt," which would have been fine had it not been covered in shredded kefalotiri cheese. The shrimp dish (Shrimp Saganaki), served in a cast iron skillet with chick peas and tomatoes was fine but bland.
Entrees: The waiter recommended the grilled branzino stuffed with headcheese, but when I ordered it, he asked if we knew there was pork in the dish, perhaps because many a female diner was surprised to find terrine and not cheese stuffed in her fish. The funny thing was the best part of the dish was actually the meat, as the fish was overcooked and tacky, and served alongside some bland mushrooms and broccoli (oh and $26.) The seabass with giant asparagus was fine if sad, something you'd be happy to find in a suburban strip mall served alongside rice pilaf and mashed potatoes ($23).
Instead of a full dessert menu, Fishtag offers ice cream (or, "IceCream/SorbetService", a massive cheese list (CheeseService), a cured meats list (CuredMeatService) and a lengthy smoked meat and fish menu (Appetizing Service).
Why it's not a raging shitshow? The service was perfect for the environment, the place was fairly crowded with a good vibe considering the windowless room, and there were plenty of regulars at the bar (though that may say more about the sad state of Upper West Side dining than about the quality of this place.) The food was bad and fairly pricey but not inedible.