Restaurant review

Restaurant Review: Lady in Greenwich Village

New York has so few good seafood restaurants that you’d think we were the biggest city in Nebraska. Outside of the most exclusive sushi bars, kitchens devoted entirely to handling fish with care and finesse are rare. When I told a friend I was reviewing a new seafood restaurant that was actually pretty cool, he said, “Good? Like Le Bernardin?

No, Lady is not like Le Bernardin. No more than two dozen people can squeeze into its dining room at a glance, and some will sit across from chef Ed Szymanski as he works in the kitchen. Before the weather turned chilly, around 30 other people could dine outside on the sidewalk and on the sidewalk of Macdougal Street in Greenwich Village.

Sitting outside like a guest at a lawn party, you can order what the menu calls “a good Pimm’s Cup.” These are excellent. When you’re ready for the wine, you won’t be given a leather-bound volume like at the Bernardin, but a sheet of paper with both sides labeled “What James Bond is Drinking” and “What Austin Powers is Drinking.” Both spies seem to prefer French whites, but Bond likes his pedigree and cut, while Powers opts for the free-spirited and sometimes funny-smelling.

With a smile and a wink, Dame has a fresh take on cooking and eating seafood. Her laid-back, modern peasant sensibility is supported, where needed, by the structure of classic French technique. Like the most appealing restaurants in Mr. Szymanski’s hometown of London, it is both simple and refined.

Dame’s focus on the fish is accidental. Originally, Mr. Szymanski and Patricia Howard, the two owners, intended to specialize in meat grilled over a wood fire. When the pandemic hit, however, they survived by selling take-out fish and chips in a series of pop-ups. They intended to get out of the fried fish business, but the pop-ups became increasingly popular.

By the time they were ready to open a proper restaurant in Greenwich Village in June, Dame was already known as that big fish and chip restaurant on Macdougal Street. So they did the only logical thing and dedicated the entire kitchen to seafood. They don’t even have a burger on the menu for heathens.

The meat palate would have been worth a look, if the charcoal-grilled quail Mr. Szymanski served years ago when he was chef at Cherry Point, Brooklyn, is any indication. But looking at the restaurant he and Mrs. Howard opened, I think I may have finally found a pandemic silver lining.

You can get raw oysters almost anywhere these days, but you won’t find them at Dame, where they’re grilled under a plush yellow robe of Hollandaise. At Cherry Point, Mr. Szymanski made a version of this dish with smoked rosemary in the hollandaise; this time he enriches the sauce with the alpine meadow scent of green Chartreuse. The beef tartare on toast that Cherry Point served under shavings of grated bottarga became tuna tartare at Dame. With big red cubes of yellowfin tuna planted in a lemon-mustard flavored spread, it’s at least as good now, and maybe better.

There’s a smart simplicity to the first courses, like grilled pufferfish tails that rest in melted Espelette butter under a warm dollop of red pepper and shallot relish. Smoked whitefish croquettes are arranged around a Calabrian pepper jam dip. Small, tender squid and shishito peppers alternate on grilled skewers with parsley oil – an effective and discreet sauce.

The busiest dish may be the chilled raw scallops in a fresh, smoked fish broth with jewel-like embellishments of orange segments, lime capsules, trout roe and emerald drops of fig leaf oil, and even that is more unified than it looks. Had a hot pie of spicy creamy crab stew with ‘nduja in a brick shell, but it didn’t work as well as the Basque txangurro that seemed to inspire it. This rich crab stew is used to best effect on a plate of creamy stewed gigantes under a salad of parsley leaves and onions.

As the parsley salad suggests, an English sensibility is incorporated throughout the menu. Most people will find it easier to spot in desserts. Until the weather turned cool these included an Eton Mess, a real one but not very messy. In its place is now a delicate lemon posset with an intense sauce of passion fruit pulp. A fig pie in September needed more figs, or something extra, but a more recent pie achieved wonderful results by combining pears with white chocolate.

As lovely and complete as the pre and final courses may be, the main plates don’t always feel fully realized. I’ve never seen another restaurant garnish the skate with more skate: first a sautéed wing and then a croquette that, when cut, squirts with melted butter like chicken Kiev. It was clever but it was also a lot of butter, because the sautéed wing was already cooked in browned butter and topped with a buttered chicken jus.

The contrast of tender fish and crisp fish loses some of its novelty when repeated in another dish on the menu, this one with poached and pan-fried turbot. And sweetbreads can be great with lobster, but not when they’re overcooked.

Sometimes I suspected that Dame hadn’t quite solved the problem of replacing grilled meats on the menu. Then I remembered the fish and chips was still on the way.

The recipe that got Dame through the pandemic relies heavily on one concocted by chef Heston Blumenthal for a BBC series called “In Search of Perfection”. One has to boil the potatoes before frying them twice and manipulate the gluten bonds, gas content, and boiling point of the batter to produce an airy, weightless, nearly moisture-free crust. That’s as close as anyone is likely to get to a fried cloud.

Whenever I eat Dame’s fish and chips, made with briefly salted hake, I prefer it to any other main course on the table. I always try to beat myself up about it. So far I have failed.

What do the stars mean Due to the pandemic, restaurants are not star rated.


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