It took a brave chef to open Crave Ceviche Bar. Ever crave ceviche? Me neither.
Who knows whether it would have succeeded? Crave was destroyed and then demolished following a fatal crane accident back in 2008.
Now, four years later, chef Todd Mitgang has reopened Crave across the street from the original in Turtle Bay, which extends along the East River in midtown. Despite the presence of fine spots like BonChon and Socarrat, the area is still more about burritos and spicy tuna rolls than quality cooking.
No matter. At just six weeks old, Crave is bustling. The new spot has a better name -- Crave Fishbar -- and it still serves lots of raw fish, much of it quite good.
Mitgang slices scallops thin and douses them in enough curry oil to heat up Manitoba ($14). He adds sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes to black bass sashimi for the right amount of zing. Then he ups the ante with king salmon that’s cut as thick as a corn-fed ribeye ($14.50). Take a bite and you’re hit with a buttery, fatty, fishy rush.
But raw fluke, advertised as containing Sichuan peppercorn, sports none of that ingredient’s trademark numbingness.
And of course, there is spicy tuna, an indistinct mash that tastes neither of spice nor of tuna.
Crave is a long, attractive rectangle of a room where you can relax with a proper cocktail without having to wait 45 minutes for a spot at the counter, a pleasure not to be discounted in an era when you often need to ask permission to sit without eating.
The Captain Melon ($13), a mix of watermelon, gin and elderflower liqueur, avoids any cloying inclinations with the right squirt of lime. Mezcal, rum and smoked ginger ($12), in turn, is a sly, smoky riff on the dark and stormy. Pair the latter with a garlicky, briny cherrystone clam chowder ($8.50), and there’s your summer meal.
Just be sure to discard the heap of dinosaur kale in your soup. That’s a problem with Crave’s fare. Mitgang has a tendency to muddle good flavors with too many ingredients.
A warm pile of Florida crab doesn’t need much. Well, maybe some bean puree? Sure thing. Corn too? A little summer sweetness wouldn’t hurt. Zucchini? Alright, now we’re starting to overdo it. And squash. And garbanzos. You get my drift.
An old rule of fashion is to remove one accessory before you leave the house; Mitgang should consider that when (undercooked) swordfish leaves the kitchen with a laundry list of extras: eggplant salad, red finger chili puree, fresh greens, crispy farrow and taggiasca olives ($28).
My companion almost missed the excellent saffron sauce with his rare tuna, as he was already preoccupied by the dish’s glazed turnips, carrots and tomato-sherry salsa ($28.50). This is what happens when servers (consistently) fail to describe what’s on the plate. They simply serve the food and leave.
No one wants a didactic experience at a neighborhood joint, but if a dish has six distinct elements, it’s worth taking a few extra seconds to explain all the intricacies.
And wines, like a mineral-tinged vinho verde ($9) or a floral torrontes ($10), arrive tableside already poured, with no offer to check the label or taste first. As a result, Crave makes artisanal wine appear like grape juice.
Fried chicken is an odd man out on the mostly maritime menu; order it anyway. The vinegar sauce, American cheddar and Israeli couscous make the bird taste like what would happen if a Southern chef moved to the Middle East and prepared a Filipino adobo. It is somehow more delicious than confusing.
Mitgang exhibits deftness with his seafood and meats, coating baby octopus with a succulent veal glace and musky maitake mushrooms. He renders all the fat out of lamb ribs, and cuts any remaining richness with a tomatillo salsa.
Lobster ($31) is overcurried, but the heady crustacean can stand up to it all. Sop up the juices with egg fried rice and skip the ho-hum desserts.
All in all, it’s a step up for Turtle Bay.
Rating: * 1/2
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Dishes range from $8-$36.
Sound Level: About average, around 70 decibels.
Date Place: Sure, sashimi is sexy.
Inside Tip: Avoid the sour shrimp spaghetti.
Special Feature: Good house-made bread.
Back on My Own Dime: For cocktails, chowder and curry.
Crave Fishbar is at 945 Second Avenue. Information: +1-646-895-9585 or http://cravefishbar.com/.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Mark Beech on music and Jeffrey Burke on books.