Over a plate of fresh Maine lobster that they brought back to the city themselves, husband-and-wife duo Ralph Gorham and Susan Povich wondered aloud, “Why doesn’t someone in New York start a fresh-seafood business?” Their destiny as restaurateurs was realized the moment those words were uttered: they opened Red Hook Lobster Pound a mere six months later. Gorham began traveling to Maine every weekend, scoping out catches and making deals with fisherman, choosing only those that partook in environmentally sustainable practices. Meanwhile, Povich experimented with recipes in order to add to an already lengthy repertoire of lobster-based recipes she learned while growing up in the Northeast. Word of mouth helped spark interest in their eatery, and before long, the demand compelled them to expand their storefront to include a picnic-style dining room. They’ve even added a food truck––nicknamed "Big Red"––that brings lobster-based dishes to diners across the city.
According to The New York Times, success has had little effect on Red Hook Lobster Pound’s menu: “It tastes as fresh as can be, which matters when you’re dealing with a trend that’s growing so fast.” Their lobster rolls—served on split-top buns and garnished with just enough homemade mayo—have been lauded by Zagat, Bloomberg News, and Gourmet.com. Other popular dishes include lobster bisque, lobster mac-n-cheese, and a lobster dinner, served with homemade coleslaw, potato salad, and fresh, lake-caught corn.
For New Yorkers looking to escape the fast paced city for an hour, Battery Gardens is about as far from the crowded Manhattan streets as they can get––literally. The elegant restaurant lies at the very tip of the island, its patio nestled right up against New York Harbor, flanked on either side by the Staten Island Ferry terminal and the Cruise Line dock. Diners flock outdoors in warm months, watching sailboats glide past Ellis Island and the nearby Statue of Liberty by day. By night, they bask in the ethereal glow cast by hanging globe lanterns that lie suspended from the canopy of tree branches overhead. The seasonal menu of executive chef Ari Nieminen favors fresh fish such as an herb crusted Norwegian salmon, and also incorporates local flavor whenever possible: for example, hot sautéed foie gras hails from Hudson Valley and roasted duck breast comes from Long Island. During warmer months, a summer beer garden serves up more casual eats such as hamburgers, hotdogs, and artisanal soft pretzels that may be twisted into a funny hat upon request.
Named for a type of plane tree with a broad, sprawling crown, Chinar on the Island shelters diners in a space designed to look like a breezy Mediterranean courtyard. Sandstone archways and clusters of palms surround diners as they tuck into appetizers, such as fresh mussels and saffron shrimp, or point out which of the clouds painted on the ceiling are shaped most like fried calamari.
For the main meal, shareable kebab plates skewer grilled meats and veggies, and pilaf dishes steam tender rice with spices and vegetables in a tangine, or earthenware pot. Hearty traditional dishes, such as roast quail or lamb slow-cooked on the bone, can fill bellies or weigh down brass display vessels commandeered for impromptu rounds of shot put.
The culinary wizards at Spanish Pavillion adroitly sate hunger pangs with their multifarious lunch and dinner menus that feature authentic Spanish cuisine. Noontime noshers feast on handheld victuals such as an imported ham-and-cheese panini with saffron aioli ($8) or delve carnivorously lunching forks into the meaty depths of the 8-ounce filet mignon with mojo verde ($16). During dinner, put kindergarten-honed sharing skills into practice with the savory tapas menu, which dishes out small plates including a Galician bean stew ($4), grilled chorizo ($9), and octopus with hot paprika ($11). Larger entrees include the paella calasparra, hosting a toothsome protein party of clams, mussels, prawns, calamari, scallops, chicken, shrimp, and chorizo congenially hot-tubbing in a saffron seafood broth ($26, $49 for two). Red-wine-braised short ribs delight mouths with their tender flavor-kisses ($24), and the 1.25-pound grilled twin lobsters team up in matching red costumes for a palatable duet ($31).
The Statue of Liberty vigilantly towers in the distance as diners glimpse it through Merchants River House’s glass walls, lending almost as much American flavor to meals as the bistro-style New World cuisine. Many dishes embrace regional culinary traditions while still finding ways to refine them with organic produce or premium ingredients. The bistro’s signature burger of black Angus beef arrives topped with vermont white cheddar, apple-wood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and spicy barbecue sauce. Local seafood specialties include oven-roasted north atlantic salmon, which sports a tangy lemon-butter sauce. Occasionally, the chefs look to international cuisines for inspiration, as with goat cheese ravioli and the seared ahi tuna burger with pickled ginger and wasabi mayo. Even with these small departures, the restaurant aims to make diners feel at home. Blond wooden chairs flank the high-topped tables, which are each adorned with casual, blue-and-white checkered tablecloths. The main dining area can only seat around 70 people, but as many as 150 can fit on the two outdoor terraces during the warmer seasons. These seats allow guests to enjoy fresh air as well as unmitigated views of the Hudson River and the tightrope linking Manhattan and New Jersey.
A restaurant, no matter its size, can be an intimate place. Bobby Van knew that well. If you'd walked into his first restaurant in the Hamptons 40 years ago, you might have found him playing the piano or slinging drinks behind the bar—inflecting the place with his personality, making a connection with the guests who dined there. He made such a big impression that 40 years later his name still graces a family of grills and steakhouses with a meaty legacy all their own.
The menu at each eatery opens with an assortment of salads and seafood appetizers, which may include delicate crab cakes or chilled lobster cocktails. Entrees may prove to be the hardest course to decide on, with a selection that includes lamb chops, fish, and steaks ranging from filets to sirloin to marbled porterhouses big enough to feed two, three, or four. Each space also holds a full bar stocked with spirits as well as wines handpicked by the sommelier.
At South Fin Grill, the ocean breeze mingles with a menu of upscale seafood and steakhouse dishes praised by New York magazine. Amid what critic Ethan Wolff describes as a "priceless" ocean view, servers roll out lobster, crab, swordfish, and salmon incarnated as pasta, soup, and sushi dishes. The "turf" portion of the menu showcases grilled new york sirloin, filet mignon, and barbecued pork, but the focus once again turns seaside at a raw bar that features clams and oysters kept fresh by pearl-shaped breath mints.
Beams of blue and yellow lighting hover above the interior dining tables, each blanketed with a white tablecloth and centered with a flickering candle. Outside, the ocean deck's sea-blue umbrellas shelter views of the boardwalk, ocean, and seagull beach volleyball tourneys. The restaurant bolsters its elegantly plated cuisine with occasional entertainment acts, which have included DJs.