Serious Eats: New York
Kids Welcome: Mermaid Oyster Bar
The Mermaid Oyster Bar in the Greenwich Village is the third location of the Mermaid restaurants in New York, and by some accounts, the best one. In addition to New England seafood classics, this location also offers a raw bar, with East and West Coast oysters, as well as clams, shrimp cocktail, and ceviche. With a chic seaside shack decor, a hopping happy hour, and very high decibels, the Oyster Bar is a vibrant restaurant that pleases both parents and children with a wide selection of oysters and an appetizing variety of hot dishes.
For a narrow restaurant on MacDougal Street known for its "happy hour-and-a-half" ($1 oysters and $7 cocktails, among other bargains), the Mermaid Oyster Bar was actually pretty welcoming to our two-and-a-half-year old. We requested a high chair when we reserved and they went to the restaurant next door to retrieve one; they also had crayons ready with an Ariel coloring sheet.
But what is great about the Oyster Bar is that there are actually many items in the menu that are likely to satisfy young (and older) palates while getting that brain-developing and heart-strengthening serving of Omega-3.
The happy hour is hectic, but the special menu (served at the bar and throughout the dining room everyday before 7pm) offers a great opportunity to sample dishes from the main menu at lower prices. Because the dishes are small, they are a good way to introduce children to a wide variety of new tastes. We, for instance, took the opportunity to introduce our daughter to lobster.
We sat down at 6:30 and ordered drinks and a few items from the happy hour menu as appetizers. I had two oysters to start, an East Coast malpeque ($1) and a West coast skookum ($1.75), both deliciously fresh. The fish tacos featured grilled tilapia, avocado, smoked jalapenos, pico de gallo and cilantro in a fried mini-tortilla—like a hard shell taco. At $3 apiece, they were not cheap, but they were perhaps the best of our happy hour selection.
My daughter had two of the the shrimp corn dogs ($3; for kids, it might be wise to ask to hold the mustard-mayo sauce). We shared the lobster slider ($6), a mini version of the Mermaid's famous lobster roll, with great crunchy chunks of lightly dressed lobster in a sweet brioche bun. She was also very happy with the lobster and truffle mac and cheese ($9) from the main menu, also featuring substantial chunks of lobster among the macaroni and just enough of the truffle's perfume to make it all a bit earthy.
For main courses, I ordered the mustard crusted rainbow trout ($21) on a bed of cherry tomatoes and arugula. The fish tasted better than it looked—because it looked like its crust had been slightly burned. Still, my daughter and I enjoyed the crusty fish and tomatoes.
My husband had the shrimp po' boy ($16), which featured nice, crunchy fried shrimp, shredded lettuce and tomatoes in a lightly toasted baguette. The po' boy was well-seasoned but not memorable. The fries were consumed in due course, but were heavy on the salt. In fact, our entrees were indeed a tad too salty.
Yet there is something special about the fish tacos ($6) at the Mermaid restaurants that keeps us coming back for more. We ordered the fish tacos from the main menu, and this time the grilled tilapia was seasoned with ancho peppers and dressed in a cilantro sauce and pico de gallo. The fish by itself was flavorful and got a great kick from the fresh vibrancy of the sauces. Nothing New-Englandy about these—there is a true Mexican sensibility to these fish tacos.
The meal ended with my daughter requesting "dessert for everybody, please"—at the Mermaid Oyster Bar, as well as the other Mermaid Inns, there is no dessert menu, but you get a complimentary cup of chocolate pudding topped with whipped cream at the end of the meal, along with a "fortune teller miracle fish"—a cellophane red fish whose movements on the palm of your hand guessed our moods: satisfied and happy.
About the author: Aya Tanaka teaches French literature and critical thinking in and around New York, and takes every opportunity to introduce her daughter to new tastes, at home and in restaurants. She chronicles her outings on high chair ny when time permits.