135 East 62nd Street, New York NY 10065; map); 212-754-1300; http://www.fishtaildb.com/
Service: Friendly and professional
Setting: A converted townhouse houses a comfortable, modern room that is a bit busy
The Deal: 3 courses, $24.07
It is sometimes hard to reconcile the two sides of David Burke. On the one hand, he is a classically trained chef with a number of ambitious restaurants that aim for the higher end of dining. But on the other, he came up with "flavor sprays," consulted for the Hawaiian Tropic Zone, and invented the cheesecake lollipop. Yet this Janus-like dichotomy—one face staring into the hushed dining rooms of haute cosmopolitan restaurants, and the other into the shopping malls of middlebrow America—finds dualistic expression at Fishtail, Burke's Upper East Side seafood restaurant.
There is much to admire about the menu at Fishtail, and the sourcing of the produce, especially the fish and seafood (of which 80% is "sustainable") is beyond reproach. But there are also pitfalls, which is why dining there at lunch will give you a good idea if it is the type of place that you feel warrants a more serious exploration. Did I say "serious"? Where that line is drawn will determine if you take to Burke's flamboyant, cheeky spin on fine dining—or if you find the whole exercise somewhat trite.
The lobster dumpling was wonderful—a leg sticking out of the top of the plump parcel bursting with lobster meat, evoking a lollipop, and making for a fine handle for popping it into your mouth. It came bathed in a pleasingly salty, buttery broth laced with ginger.
But the delicacy in the layering of texture and flavor apparent in the lobster dumpling was nowhere to be found in the tempura calamari served with a Thai chili dipping sauce. The calamari were far too densely battered and rather oily; the sauce (sticky and sweet) was no better than what you could get in a supermarket, and the dish as a whole, no better than what you can expect at an upscale mall bistro.
The pan-roasted Atlantic salmon was perfectly cooked with a crisp crust and a flaky inner core, the red curry foam and sliver of roasted of fennel bulb complimenting the fish nicely. It would be at home on almost any high-end fish menu.
The bay scallop carbonara was, pardon the expression, rather ham-fisted, with its dense pebbles of bacon and viscous sauce. The scallops had a hard time swimming against the tide of cream and salt. The dish was enjoyable, to be sure, delicious even, and filling. But it was not the refined, delicately constructed dish that one expects from this type of restaurant.
A fruit carpaccio— slivers of pineapple and strawberry dotted with blueberries—came under a dollop of house made lemon basil sorbet. The dish was a delight, especially the sorbet, whose flavor whisked me off to the banks of the Tiber where I enjoyed a similarly flavored gelato.
A coconut cake caramel nut cake was rather dry, the coconut sauce unable to over come the mealy cake, and the candied construction on top was punishingly dense.
In fairness, for $24.07, you get a three-course lunch that costs less than any entrees from the dinner menu; in itself, it is a tremendous value, considering the quality of the ingredients and the portions, which are simply enormous. But in relation to the similarly priced offering from any number of other fine dining restaurants—many that I have reviewed for this column—I think that comparing Fishtail favorably to them would be telling a fisherman's tale.