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Slippery Catch Serves $36 Sole, Clam Pizza, Mushy Sushi: Review

Cantonese Lobster
The $78 Cantonese-style lobster. The plating includes two tails and five or six claws. Garlic and ginger perfume the delicious, barely cooked shellfish. Source: Shadow PR via Bloomberg

Catch features iPad-equipped doormen, $25 tequila cocktails and washroom attendants who hand you paper towels and Dior cologne.

Jonathan Cheban, a regular on Kim Kardashian’s reality TV show, held court on a recent night. He was greeted by Hung Huynh, famous for winning the “Top Chef” reality cooking show. I suppose they had something to talk about.

Over at the raw bar, cooks prepared “Hellfire Rolls,” which involves spicy tuna two ways (smoky and mushy, neither very good). They also diced up an excellent toro tartare with firm sturgeon caviar -- a meaty, fatty $38 fish cake.

This is the flashy, fun and not infrequently silly state of affairs at Catch, a tri-level behemoth brought to us by the EMM Group, the force behind Abe & Arthur’s and Tenjune.

Catch is part fancy French seafood spot, part Japanese sushi bar and part Italian-American clam shack with Chinese influences.

The first item on the menu is a half dozen oysters with a half bottle of Krug for $100. It’s a clever marketing trick designed to make everything else seem affordable.

Impossibly beautiful spindle-legged waitresses and waiters totter in and out of view in this Red Lobster for hedge funders. Such frills help explain why you’re paying $78 for your Cantonese-style crustacean. The plating included two tails and five or six claws (must be one of those rare tarantula lobsters). Garlic and ginger perfumed the barely cooked shellfish. Delicious.

Don’t Even Ask

Smaller, $40 lobsters, with more predictable numbers of claws, are available as well. They cannot be ordered Cantonese-style. House rule.

An appetizer of cold Alaskan king crab legs is $60; a hot entree is $90.

Crab lovers can opt for cheaper preparations like tender rings of stuffed-squid or Dungeness-spiked spaghetti. Huynh cut his teeth at Guy Savoy, one of the best fine-dining spots in Vegas. That accounts for an expertly executed red-wine reduction accompanying a charred, mineral-tinged strip steak ($35).

So why is an ambitious seafood spot sending out flavorless chicken parmesan? What’s with the mall-style salmon rolls with cloying yuzu-sauce?

Unexciting Shrimp

And why does Catch serve the same mediocre shrimp cocktail you can get at any Midwest steakhouse?

Fried red snapper for two ($72) is presented whole. Your waiter filets it with the elegance of a wood chipper. Huynh’s chili-garlic sauce rescues the shredded, mealy flesh.

Arrive at 6 p.m. for the best seats in the house -- lounge tables overlooking Ninth Avenue at the Gansevoort Hotel. Noise levels are not yet deafening.

Order plump, briny oysters with a dry Schloss Schonborn Riesling ($19) or a glass of aromatic Brancott Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand ($14).

Avoid cocktails, made by bartenders keen on disguising the flavor of good alcohol with sugar. The “Kane”, for example, takes Deleon Diamante tequila (about $110 at your liquor store) and makes it taste like pineapple juice. Cost: $25. The $18 “Black Smoke,” with Patron Reposado and mescal, is equally unbalanced.

Huynh treats clams simply: raw on the half shell or chopped up on a buttery flatbread pizza ($14). He treats his French preparations even better, coating ethereal scallop dumplings ($15) in silken caviar-vichyssoise.

Sole ($36) is rolled around scallop mousse, poached and draped in caviar beurre blanc, a study in restrained, delicately textured maritime flavors.

After such heights, Catch returns you to Earth -- or at least the Meatpacking District -- with a cookie dough bombe that tastes of freezer burn. Not cool.

Rating: * 1/2

The Bloomberg Question

Price: Easily $100 per person or more.

Sound Level: Loud, from 75-90.

Date Place: If you come early and order right.

Inside Tip: Stellar lobster macaroni.

Special feature: Tasty pretzel rolls.

Back on My Own Dime? Maybe for the sole.

Catch is at 21 Ninth Avenue. Information: +1-212-392-5978 or

What the Stars Mean:
****         Incomparable food, service, ambience.
***          First-class of its kind.
**           Good, reliable.
*            Fair.
(No stars)   Poor

Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse sotto voce. 56 to 60: Speak up, please. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: Heads turn because you’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.

(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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