My friend and I are drinking poorly made martinis in a 42nd Street bar, trying to decide where to eat.
“Feel like Thai?” my friend asks.
“Nah,” I reply, “I’m not in the mood for Thai.”
I give her the gentle version of the thousand yard waiter stare. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“Sorry,” she says, “I forgot.”
“Actually,” I say, “I’m in the mood for fish.”
“Funny,” she says. “I didn’t know you liked fish.”
“I think my body’s calling out for some Omega Three.”
“I know just the place,” my friend says, “Mary’s Fish Camp.”
“Where is it?”
“That’s a hike,” I say, my stomach grumbling.
“It’ll be worth it,” she says, “The food’s great.”
“Just as long as I can get something that doesn’t stare back at me.”
“I’m not a fan of whole fish,” I explain.
“I love whole fish,” my friend purrs.
“Yuk,” I reply, making a face.
“What’s your problem?” she asks.
“My problem’s like wanting to eat the hamburger without having to meet the cow.”
“As long as it doesn’t have eyeballs I’m fine.”
“I’m sure they’ll have something you’ll like,” my friend says, shaking her head.
We take the subway down to the Village. After a few wrong turns we find the restaurant at 64 Charles on the corner of 4th.
Mary’s Fish Camp is a tiny restaurant in the bottom floor of a brownstone. Decorated in the style of a Florida seafood shack and painted in shades of distressed aquamarine, half of its diminutive space is occupied by the kitchen. A long curving steel counter, where customers are busily shucking oysters, dominates the room. Several small tables are crammed near the front window. They’re all taken.
“Cute place,” I say, looking around.
“How long of a wait?” my friend asks the hostess.
“About 45 minutes,” the hostess replies.
My friend looks at me. “You want to wait?”
I take a deep breath. The smells coming from the kitchen are delicious.
“If the food is as good as it smells,” I say, “I’ll wait.”
We give the hostess our cell number and head over to Les Deux Gamins, a French place on 234 West 4th, for another cocktail. Their bar might be tiny but their bartender is expert. His craftsmanship makes me forget the sorry ass martini I had earlier. While we drink my friend and I catch up on old times.
Forty five minutes later, and slightly looped, we’re back at Mary’s, crammed between two businesses men and three yuppie Padawans. Mary’s is one of those places where you can’t indulge in free range of motion without elbowing someone in the nose. It is, as they say in the restaurant biz, cozy.
“So watcha gonna have?” I ask my friend.
“The whole striped bass,” she says, insouciantly.
“You like to perform microsurgery when you eat, don’t you?” I chuckle.
“What are you having?” my friend asks.
I scan the menu. I’m in the mood for fish but I’m not a fish person. I need help. I motion the waitress over.
“I hate to ask you this,” I say, “But I’m not a fish person. What do you have that’s not too fishy?”
Instead of giving me the “Why are you eating here?” look, the waitress quickly sums me up, processes her options, and formulates the appropriate recommendation.
“You’d like the fluke,” she says, “It’s a panko coated filet served on top of brussel sprouts and bacon.”
“So it’s fish the way the Irish like it,” I respond.
The waitress laughs, “Exactly.” I like the waitress. She’s a pro.
Our appetizer, salt encrusted shrimp, comes out quickly. It’s expertly cooked but I’m not a shrimp fan. My friend eats most of it. While we’re waiting for our entrees we survey the tables around us. The three kids adjacent to us are nosily comparing the merits of their pricey addresses.
“In this town, asking a person where they live often comes before asking what they do,” my friend mutters.
“They’re just trying to determine their place in the pecking order,” I whisper.
“What would they think of our addresses?” my friend asks.
“Where we live?” I reply, “It says ‘Here be dragons’ on the map.”
My friend laughs, “How true.”
Our entrees arrive. My fluke’s encrusted in a thick lightly spiced panko coating which delivers a satisfying crunchy resistance before reaching the moist succulent filet. The fish is served atop a chiffonade of brussel sprouts and bacon, accompanied by mashed sweet potatoes and a side of slow roasted elephant garlic. It’s outstanding.
“Yummy,” is my professional verdict.
“Good,” my friend says happily, “I knew you’d like this place.”
“How’s your bass?” I ask.
“Staring at me.”
I take a taste of her bass. It’s also excellent. I’m really glad we came to this place.
As we tuck into our dinners the conversation turns to Frank Bruni, the food critic for the NY Times.
“So did you know Bruni’s writing a blog now?” my friend asks.
“I noticed,” I say between mouthfuls.
“What do you think of that?”
“Imitation, my dear, is the sincerest form of flattery.”
“Hey, he’s writes about being a waiter and now he’s blogging?” I say, “Next thing you know he’ll be doing stories with dialogue.”
“I’m sure he thought of blogging for a long time.”
“Maybe, but I’ve been doing it for almost two years.”
“Maybe you should write a review of this place,” my friend suggests, “Do his job.”
“I might just do that,” I say with a sly smile.
We finish our entrees and take a pass on dessert. My friend finishes her wine which is served Greek style in a little glass. I forgot what kind of wine she ordered but she said it was good. I’ll have to brush up my on my observational powers if I’m gonna review restaurants.
We pay the bill and leave a nice tip. While my friend heads to the ladies room I walk over to the hostess stand.
“How was everything?” the hostess asks.
“It was delicious,” I reply, “We’ll be coming back.”
“That’s what we like to hear,” the hostess replies.
The hostess goes to seat a table. While she’s gone I take one of my Waiter Rant pens and lay it on the reservation book. Tacky? Of course. But I’m not above shameless self promotion. I decide there and then to start reviewing restaurants – but in my own way.
“Ready to go?” my friend asks upon her return.
As we walk into the night, dodging slush puddles the size of lakes, I’m suffused with the warm satisfied feeling you have after a good meal with great company. I sigh contently. Life is very good.
If you’re ever down in the Village give Mary’s Fish Camp a try. You’ll be glad you did.
And that folks is my first restaurant review. Amateurish? Sure. But anything worthwhile takes time to learn. And remember, I’m not eating on the NY Times’ dime.
But maybe soon.
Mary’s Fish Camp, 64 Charles Street at the corner of 4th Street, (646) 486-2185