New York’s Most Rewarding Seafood Restaurant
ORIGINAL OPENING 1984
LOCATION Rockefeller Center
19 West 49th Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues New York, NY 10020
OWNER Patina Restaurant Group
EXEC. CHEF DE CUISINE Jawn Chasteen
PASTRY CHEF Michael Gabriel
MENU Inventive seafood
SEATING CAPACITY Main Room: 154
Bar Area: 20
HOURS Lunch: Monday through Friday: 11:30 am to 2:30 pm
Dinner: Monday through Saturday: 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm
THE SEA GRILL SAILS TO NEW HEIGHTS WITH CHEF JAWN CHASTEEN’S LOCAL, SUSTAINABLE TASTING MENU
Review By Nancy Walman
The Sea Grill started the trend in Manhattan of fresh seafood, prepared with care and flair in an upmarket atmosphere. When executive chef Ed Brown took hold of the kitchen, the restaurant evolved into one of Manhattan’s best in the fish field and inspired infinite spawns (not always calling themselves fish restaurants).
When Brown parted ways to open his own restaurant, the future of The Sea Grill was never in doubt, thanks to a history of savvy management by the Patina Group, but one wondered what direction the new chef might take. Well, CHEF DE CUISINE Jawn (pronounced John) Chasteen chose not to throw the turbot out with the sea water on the one hand and refuse to be a copycat on the other. Chef Chasteen has introduced a new tasting menu, featuring four courses of the restaurant’s favorite local fish. These fish are all-natural and sustainable: wild, plentiful and line-caught. Chef Jawn Chasteen sources from local day boat fishermen and purveyors to get the freshest fish available – from sea to table in a matter of days. None of these fish has been transported by airplane.
Chasteen built a menu around these fish, including produce from local farms, giving diners a chance to enjoy the depth of flavor and rich textures of natural foods. The restaurant’s favorite local wines are paired with the dishes to add another dimension of regional flavor. He also chose to do an a la carte menu that is refreshingly simple, yet inspired. No fish is sacrificed in vain at The Sea Grill and all sauces are superb, minimalist and bursting with flavor. Presentations are lovely, without getting in the way of the main star. June and July are the ideal time to enjoy local fish; as the water warms up, bait fish run closer to shore, bringing the larger ones along with them. Certain species such as striped bass migrate up from the South, heading towards Maine.
“I love the flavors and freshness of local fish, and I also feel that it is important to support my community’s farmers and fishermen,” said Chasteen. “Buying locally doesn’t stop at the vegetables on your plate. Fish is something that can be sourced close to home as well, so I try to buy from the closest ports to The Sea Grill.” The restaurant uses sustainable, natural products whenever possible, but this new tasting menu will put a spotlight on them exclusively. Sustainable fish are grown or caught in ways that do not harm the environment and take no more fish out of the ocean that are born each year.
Currently Chasteen shops at the Union Square Greenmarket for much of his produce, but once the Rockefeller Center Farmers Market opens in July, he’ll be able to shop right in The Sea Grill’s backyard.
“The most natural fish and produce have a flavor that can’t be mistaken,” said Chef Chasteen. “I like to think that sustainable practices leave a good taste on your conscience.”
The Adam Tahani decor offers a multitude of blue hues found throughout this space, conjuring memories of the many seas of the world, from the light aqua green of the Gulf Coast to the deep royal blues of the Mediterranean, providing Sea Grill with a calming, comfortable atmosphere. A transparent floor, beige in color and speckled with white circles in a variety of sizes, is reminiscent of the ocean as it strikes the shore, while a free-form communal table suspended by stainless steel cables sits next to the rectangular bar. Windows on the north side of the space look out onto the world famous Rockefeller Center Ice Rink. When the curtains are drawn open on the south side, guests can catch a glimpse as to the goings-on in the belly of Rockefeller Center itself.
We tested the kitchen to its limits by requesting the tasting menu for me and asking our server to suggest complementary courses of the same number for my husband. First courses set the stage for the magic to follow:(Alternately, tasting menu — versus a la carte) Delaware striped bass with miso, apple and warm ginger vinaigrette was ethereal in its simplicity; cherry gazpacho with aged balsamic and jonah crab was elegant, never cloying and a total original. Second courses: Tempura of Barnegat Light soft shell crabs with pickled vegetables and aïoli. And who taught chef Chasteen that soft shell crab, whatever the preparation, must be crisp (in my book) or forget it. Ceviche of “Caribbean Laughing” shrimp with passion fruit was nothing to laugh at. Most every restaurant is doing ceviche wrong. Right? Well, at The Sea Grill, you could find (and taste) the fish. The marinade was subtle, yet at the same time assertive.
Long Island sole with roasted green asparagus, Catskill ramps and saffron hollandaise had its culinary roots in Barcelona. No over-the-top foams, but dabs of a heady saffron hollandaise. The asparagus may have been broiled, but it was blanched first, taking it out of the under-cooked category we encounter so often. The all-crab jumbo lump crab cake is breaded with corn flakes and shatters as you poke your fork into the parchment crust. It’s soooooo crabby and the grainy mustard sauce is terrific.
Final courses, Grilled Rhode Island bluefish, lightly smoked
with warm fingerling potatoes and crème fraîche and grilled Mediterranean branzino with wilted escarole, orange segments and taiiasca olive tapenade were both as good as they sound. I love bluefish and served with fingerling potatoes, well that’s a marriage made in The Sea Grill.
The wine list is full of affordable surprises and it is worth asking the sommelier for suggestions, as we did. He turned up with a delightful Alsatian blend (unusual for Alsace): Paul Kubler – Alsace Kintet, 2004 Grape variety: Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Muscat. It displayed subtle fruit, good acid and worked perfectly with every plate.
While traditional American fish restaurants aren’t strong on desserts, The Sea Grill’s pastry chef, Michael Gabriel, creates classy and breezy summer fantasies that are not only delicious, but pretty as a picture. We tasted about five, and our memories dance around images of fresh peach granita, mint panna cotta with local blueberries and Vidal Blanc granité, a Guanaja chocolate praline bar with raspberry gelée and milk chocolate-praline glaze and a superlative after-gift of perhaps a half dozen mini-cones filled with intense sorbets and pistachio Madelines.
Service is some of the smoothest in the city: Never stuffy, pushy or pretentious, but allways efficient and guiding. The local, sustainable menu will run through the end of July. So run to The Sea Grill ASAP. Manhattan can boast two world class seafood restaurants and The Sea Grill is the most accessible.
Chef’s Tasting Menu
Delaware striped bass with miso, apple and warm ginger vinaigrette
Dr. Konstantin Frank, Semi-Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, 2006
Tempura of Barnegat Light soft shell crabs with pickled vegetables and aïoli
Shinn Estate, Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, North Fork Long Island
Long Island sole with roasted green asparagus,
Catskill ramps and saffron hollandaise
Channing Daughters, Rosato, Long Island 2007
Grilled Rhode Island bluefish, lightly smoked
with warm fingerling potatoes and crème fraîche
Raphael, Cabernet Franc, “La Fontana,” North Fork, 2004
Vanilla panna cotta with local berries and Wölffer Estate granité
The ingredients on this menu are local, wild and sustainable
$75 per person/$100 with wine pairings
The Sea Grill is located at: 19 West 49th Street at Rockefeller Center, New York, NY 10020.
Copyright 2008 By Punchin International. All Rights Reserved.