Ducks Eatery is a cocktail bar and restaurant in the East Village serving Southeast Asian-inspired food optimized for its casual bar setting. Everything is made for sharing, and the priciest dishes hover around the $15 mark. I stopped in last week to see what a meal of their small plates would look like.
During happy hour, oysters are just $1.50 each. Topped with a blackberry, makrud lime granita, and micro greens, they're one of the best deals on Ducks' menu (slightly less so after happy hour ends). Generally I detest anything topping my oysters other than a splash of lemon or perhaps a bit of mignonette, but the accompaniments here were applied thoughtfully and sparingly, complementing the oysters rather than overpowering their subtle brininess.
Seasonal Pickles ($5) offered a less subtle brininess, but I'm not complaining. The small jar featured okra, carrots, and green beans, all crisp and tangy, a nice accompaniment to...
Chicken Wings ($12), which here are not slathered in buffalo sauce, but rather rubbed with spices that give them a smoky, earthy flavor. The lime wedges on the side are not for show; they give an essential brightness that would otherwise be missing. I'm ambivalent to the wing tip, but if you believe, as some do, that the tip is an inalienable right of the wing eater, you'll be glad to know these wings come whole, tip still attached for gnawing. Generally I'm not a fan of non-buffalo wing styles, but I'd gladly order these again.
Another highlight was the Crispy Pig Ears ($11), slivers of thoroughly crisp pig's ear served in a lettuce cup with pickled onion, a bit of microgreens, and sesame seeds. The ears, crispy and practically candied with a sweet glaze, were given a refreshing twist with the tangy onions and crisp lettuce. This is a bar food I'd be happy to eat more regularly.
In all, the food we tried at Ducks was adventurous and playful without being overwrought. There's a simplicity to the food here even in the most adventurous dishes. It's a fine line, and Ducks Eatery makes it look easy (it doesn't take long to find a place that shows its not). Let's face it: this place only has to be good enough to catch spillover from Motorino a couple doors down. But it's much, much better than that, worthy of a trip of its own.
About the author: Ben Fishner is Serious Eats' advertising operations administrator, and he is currently planning his next meal. In addition to writing for Serious Eats, he blogs at Ben Cooks Everything. Follow him on Twitter or Tumblr, won't you?