When reading an article on the best salads in the city (yes, I do that in my spare time), I came across the bulgur salad at MP Taverna. My research led me to the discovery that chef Michael Psilakis has a Manhattan restaurant as well. Named FISHTAG, the restaurant is located on the Upper West Side. After looking at the Mediterranean menu and seeing that it had a ton of fish dishes (based on the name, who would have guessed?) AND the bulgar salad- I quickly added it to the bucket list.
I got to go to FISHTAG with my dad and his friend on Friday night and it was PHENOMENAL. The restaurant itself is pretty unremarkable, but the food more than made up for what was lacking in the décor department.
The menu at FISHTAG is set up differently than most restaurants- appetizers and entrees are mixed together and instead the menu is organized from lighter to heavier dishes (there’s also wine and beer suggestions for different areas of the menu). Appetizers and entrees are distinguished by black and red colored text.
We decided to start with 3 appetizers. The first was the smoked octopus with fingerling potatoes, hearts of palm, snow pea leaves, pumpkin seeds, date & green olive puree.
My only complaint is that I wanted more more more. The octopus was perfectly cooked- super tender, not at all chewy, and an amazing smoky taste. I’ve had some good, and bad, octopus ever since I fell in love with it in Greece- and this could potentially be the best I’ve ever had! The hearts of palm and pumpkin seeds were a great touch- everyone was loving it.
The second was the smoked sablefish dusted with paprika. Wowza this was good! Again, the perfect smokiness! This was my first time having sable, and it won’t be my last!
The sable was also served with a killer sauce of some kind and a little bowl of tasty pickled vegetables and olives that we all really liked! It wasn’t just your typical pickled vegetables- there was a persimmon, cauliflower, and caper berry!
I saved the best appetizer for last- and probably my most favorite thing of the whole night. The Bacala and Skordalia Brandade “Melt.” I had read a review of it on Chew York and knew I had to order it, even though I didn’t really know what to expect.
The review was actually really helpful when the melt arrived at my table in all its glory, with “kefaloteri, smoked eggplant and oven dried tomatoes.” Here’s what it is:
First of all, Bacala is colloquially called “salt cod,” (although, it’s soaked over and over in water before it’s ready to be cooked, which removes most of the saltiness), and a blended mixture of salt cod and olive oil is called a “Brandade.” Secondly, a “Skordalia” is a traditional, thick, greek spread- consisting of pureed garlic with other lumpy things (potatoes, walnuts, etc). At FishTag, the Skordalia consists of smoked potatoes, garlic, yogurt, and shredded Kefaloteri cheese, which lends a smoky robustness like a cross between a Gruyere and a Pecorino. These two blends are then themselves blended with a finely pureed smoked eggplant and nestled betwixt seasoned oven-roasted tomatoes and perfectly toasted French bread.(Ridiculously delicious)
Jon is right when he says that this is just “one of the most delicious things ever.” It’s hard to write about it because there are so many components working together to make it taste so incredibly amazing that I think everyone just needs to go and eat it!
Now here is where the meal got REALLY awesome. I guess the bartender had overheard me talking about my blog, and then during the appetizers they saw me meticulously photographing everything. So we were bestowed with a tasting of three of FISHTAG’s new “Happy Hour Bites” on the house. Usually only served at the bar, we were the first people ever to nom on these delicious snacks in the dining room! Two of the three samples were meat-based…and although I gave up meat for Lent, I thought God would forgive me if I cheated just this once!
The first was a braised short rib fritter with ginger aioli and micro greens.
The ginger aioli was dreamy! The fritter was good too- something about the consistency of the short rib wasn’t working for me, but it was also my first time eating meat in weeks so that could have had something to do with it! And I’m pretty much a fan of anything deep fried, so the fact that this was a fritter was great.
The second was definitely my favorite – an anchovy and polenta fritter with black olive and micro greens.(Anchovy & Polenta Fritter)
Fried anchovy? YUM! The polenta + the saltiness of the anchovy, it was definitely working for me!
The last bar bite was the braised pork belly with red beet relish and crispy pork skin. I wasn’t a huge fan, because I’m not a huge hunk-a-meat with fat and bone kinda girl- but there is no denying the fatty deliciousness of some crispy pork skin. And that beet relish was something I could eat for days!(Mmm beets!)
Aside from tasting yummy– I think my favorite thing about these were the beautiful presentation! I’m a sucker for photo-worthy food!
FISHTAG’s new happy hour features $1 oysters with pomegranate and yogurt (uhm, need), and happy hour bites like the ones we got to try – 2 bites for $5, 4 for $8 or 8 for $15! Happy Hour is from 5 – 6:30 Monday through Friday and the drink specials are bangin’ too- half price glasses of wine and $8 cocktails. I’m definitely going to check out their happy hour because I also had a GREAT glass of wine with dinner and I’m not even a wine fan!
Next up were our entrees! My dad ordered the Lobster Bucatini – butter poached lobster, shellfish nage, brussel leaves and tarragon. I tried a bite that was delicious, and they didn’t skimp on the lobster, which was nice to see!
My dad’s friend ordered the Grilled Swordfish and Greek Sausage served with loukaniko, grilled kale and middle eastern spiced bulgur salad. I didn’t try this, but I took a picture!
I opted for two appetizers instead of an entrée. The first was, of course, the Chopped Bulgur Salad that originally drew me to FISHTAG.
Funny enough, this was probably the least impressive thing I ate that night! According to the menu the salad is filled with medjool dates, pomegranate, olives, breakfast radish, peppers, grilled onions, smoked almonds and pistachio. I was a little disappointed by the bulgur to filling ratio! Maybe I’m just not a fan of bulgur, but something with this salad just wasn’t working for me, unfortunately. I took most of it home, but I don’t even know if I’ll end up finishing it.
The other appetizer I got was the Catalan Shrimp with patatas bravas, garlic and zatar. Ready for my favorite phrase? HOLY YUM.
The patatas bravas, which I had every intention of eating very few of, were so crispy and delicious in the sauce that I ended up eating the majority of them. The shrimp were great, and the sauce to die for. There were also some peppers and onions in there soakin' in the sauce. I think I used my spoon to eat it like soup at the end…maybe. Whatever the spice zatar is, I’m a fan.
My dad’s friend ordered the Chocolate Ganache Cake for dessert, which I gladly sampled.
Served with white chocolate crunch, raspberry coulis, caramelized white chocolate soil and chocolate ice cream, I was in choco-heaven. And I was a little scared that the Spiced Pear Tart the waiter has slyly convinced me to order was going to be a let-down because of its lack of chocolate. I should not have worried. My pear tart came to the table and first of all, it was gorgeous.
The center of the tart had pears sliced so perfectly, it was like artwork. And the taste? Out. Of. This. World. The pastry was so flaky and buttery and the pears were so sweet and not overly dripping in fake sugary stuff. This dessert was huge. And I ate every last bite.
It was served with almond cream, caramel sauce, olive oil cremeux and killer caramel ice cream!
For the quality of this food, the price was great. The awful review written by The New York Times when it first opened was completely unwarranted. FISHTAG was an amazing meal – I definitely think the food here was better than Spice Market (obviously, very different). I don’t like repeating restaurants- but there’s no way I won’t eventually be back for anchovy & polenta fritters, the bacala & skordalia brandade melt, and the catalan shrimp (lucky me, all my favorites are on the happy hour bites menu! SCORE!) Ok, and I might need another one of those amazing pear tarts! And I’m not sharing!