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Fish, No Chips, at Icelandic Fish & Chips

Sietsema takes a first look at the new import in the West Village

What would fish and chips taste like if they’d been invented in modern-day Iceland, rather than 150 years ago in the U.K.? That seems to be the premise behind Icelandic Fish and Chips, a restaurant founded in Reykjavik in 2006, intent on finding a new way to merchandise the fish found in cold Icelandic waters.

Instead of the usual thick and glistening beer batter, these fish filets were sparsely coated in spelt before deep frying, resulting in a much thinner crust. For french fries, baked potato wedges were substituted, and the dipping sauces made with Skyr, a dribbly Icelandic dairy product not unlike yogurt. Healthier? Well, maybe.

The second branch of this Icelandic novelty appeared a few days ago on Seventh Avenue South in the West Village, touting the sustainable nature of Icelandic fisheries. (Maybe they are, but cod remains in severe worldwide decline.) The restaurant occupies a luxury premises that was once Mas (La Grillade), then Almanac, and more recently a short-lived fast-casual called Clean Table.

The build-out is elegant for what is basically a 90-seat, fish-and-chips restaurant. A small library right inside the front door provides some well-chosen volumes, in case you want to study up on Iceland before grabbing a bite. A bar dominates the first floor with an informal dining area deeper inside, while a grand stairway leads up to a dining loft furnished with a skylight, which is where you should snag your seat for the best view.

A display of Icelandic black-and-white seascapes occupies a wall upstairs; fur pelts are scattered along a plush, off-white banquette. These may or may not be — as a fellow diner suggested — from the shaggy miniature Icelandic horses called tolts.

The menu is divided into Small Plates, Fried Fish, Other Plates, Sides, Condiments, and Desserts. Small Plates ($11 to $16) offers spelt-fried vegetables, smoked fish, fish balls, and seafood salads dressed with the trademarked “Skyronnes.”

This opening section also contains an oddity or two, including stockfish: three bone-dry strips of fish that must be pulled free of the inedible skin before being spread with butter. These fibrous tidbits don’t taste like much, but offer a glimpse of how hard life must have once been in Iceland.

The whole point of the menu is found in the Fried Fish division, a list of nine species, some with colorful names like tusk and Atlantic wolffish. Only three or four, reportedly flown in from Iceland, will be available each day.

My party of five ordered all four that evening (cod, rose fish, ling, and wolffish). We were a bit disappointed to see that the fried fish, priced from $11 to $13, arrived unadorned with not even a sprig of parsley, which makes them look sad pushed to the side of the oblong plate. The most remarkable thing about the four species was how similar they tasted, with a thin but still greasy spelt crust. Cod was just what you’d expect — coarse-textured and slippery, and nearly flavorless. Ling was a bit denser, rose fish a little browner, and wolffish a little sweeter — according to the menu — though I couldn’t detect it.

We ordered three sides ($9 to $10), foolishly thinking that at that price there would be an enough to share. Not so. A paltry collection of onion rings could be eaten in three or four bites. The potato wedges were roasted with that famous Icelandic product, olive oil. The worst was a mango salad that was almost all baby spinach. Mangoes must be rare and wondrous in Reykjavik; here we expect larger quantities.

The dipping sauces are sold separately, at three for $6. Many are goofily conceived, such as basil and garlic, mango, and cilantro and lime. Pharmacy bottles of sea salt and malt vinegar found on the table make much better condiments; use them.

We concluded our meal with something called Icelandic biscotti ($4 each). Having been flavored with angelica and moss, they tasted like molasses cookies. One thing about Icelandic Fish and Chips: The fish is high quality, and makes you long for more traditional fish and chips, not the product shorn of its batter, sided with foolish things, and — perhaps worst of all — served without chips.

Icelandic Fish & Chips

28 7th Avenue South, New York, NY 10014 (646) 922-8473 Visit Website
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