When it gets as hot and muggy as it has been the last couple of weeks in New York, I get seafood on the brain. And while I can't make it to New England for the real deal, there are plenty of options in the city for a quick fix. Some are fantastic, some are terrible. With a serious hankering for fried clams, I found myself at the counter at Mary's Fish Camp this week, trying to see if I could string together an affordable, satisfying meal.
Watermelon & Goat Cheese Salad with Nicoise Olives and Mint ($10) was, despite its lack of any seafood, a highlight of the meal. Watermelon, feta, and mint is by now a classic combination, and swapping in soft, tangy goat cheese for the feta worked quite nicely. Despite the aforementioned lack of seafood, the olives and capers combined to lend the dish a nice brininess that made it fit in nicely with the rest of our mostly-seafood meal.
Fried Oysters and Clams ($12) come piled high next to a pool of homemade Fish Camp tartar sauce. The sauce itself is chunky with red pepper, red onion and capers, so it's tasty if a bit hard to actually dip. Still, when applied with a fork or knife it's a nice, bright addition to these sweet, perfectly fried mollusks. The clams and oysters are fresh, tender and soft, not a bit chewy, with a crispy golden crust that's not too greasy. I could have done with a higher clam to oyster ratio, but your mileage (and preference) may vary.
Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs ($7) were ordered because I had a feeling they'd be a good deal; in fact they're a just-okay deal, but all things considered a delicious plate of food. Three egg halves are stuffed with a rich egg yolk mixture that's strongly flavored with smoked salmon. I expected a patronizing smoked salmon garnish, but I was blown away by the flavor. Seven bucks for 1 1/2 eggs is not inexpensive, but I hardly regretted ordering this menu item.
Colorado Smoked Trout Dip ($11) isn't fishy at all, but it is incredibly smokey, and plenty rich from the addition of both sour cream and cream cheese. In fact, it's hard to pick up on any ingredients other than the trout and the cream. This is not a complaint by any stretch. It's served with perfectly grilled bread slices and radishes and celery to mercifully cut some of the fat; I'd be happy to spread this on a bagel. Or an old sock.
Mary's Fish Camp is a West Village institution, and if Pearl Oyster Bar weren't right around the corner, it'd be the best seafood joint in the neighborhood, which is not to say that Mary's is anything less than great. The quality of the food, the price, and the atmosphere are all top notch. The room is lively but not too loud, with service that is friendly even if it can feel a bit rushed at times (though I can hardly blame them with the perpetual wait the restaurant has at most times of night). The two of us spent $40 on food before tax and tip; if I had been able to order a bit more conservatively we could have probably gotten that figure down to the $15/person target price. Still, no regrets: if you're in need of a seafood fix, Mary's is a great choice.