September 16, 2019 | BITE: My Journal
Catching Up with Redeye Grill
The freshly spiffed up Redeye Grill looks exciting and elegant.
I recall dozens of exuberant Cobb salads over the years at Redeye Grill. I was an addict. I had to have one, never mind whatever else was on offer. The salad was delivered in stripes of ingredients on a platter -- roast chicken, avocado, bacon, blue cheese, tomato, romaine -- tossed tableside. “Shall I make the dressing light?” the waiter would ask, reading my mind. I was so glad he asked, since even when I wasn’t dieting, I was always brooding about calories.
That’s the famous revolving copper shrimp above the door by sculptor Ron Mehlman.
My guy most of that era usually had the linguine fra diavolo. There were spiffy dudes in straw skimmers tending the shellfish bar. Sometimes there was live music. Not my thing, but not all that annoying. I recalled the fun when our sculptor friend, Ron Mehlman, created the dancing shrimp for his pal Shelly Fireman. Mehlman did fountains and monuments. He’d never done a shrimp before.
The elephant and his “date” on the balcony are dancing too.
The bartender shakes and pours in the middle of the room.
There was a small kitchen fire in April last year. Surveying repair work, Fireman decided the place needed refreshing too. It reopened in July after a year-long rehab. I hadn’t eaten there in a decade. But just after Labor Day, I put together three friends and asked everyone to order something different. No trick at all, since Redeye’s menu has many categories.
The new 888 Café where breakfast is served is visible north of the main room.
The space looks great, sparkling and celebratory. The new 888 Café & Bar has landed next door to serve all day starting with breakfast. There is even a small menu of Brooklyn Diner dishes available here while that Fireman outlet nearby on West 57th Street gets a facelift.
Our friends come early and order the rainbow roll. It arrives in time for us to taste too.
The sushi burger layers spicy yellowfin tuna with avocado, wakame seaweed and watermelon radish.
Two of us are early so we share the rainbow roll, a layering of hamachi, jumbo lump crab, tuna and salmon sprinkled with tobiko, and the house’s weird-looking, but delicious, sushi burger -- spicy yellow fin tuna with avocado, wakame seaweed salad and watermelon radish, plus a side of pickled ginger.
I expected the chopped salad to be as good as Cafe Fiorello’s, but it wasn’t even close.
The duck quesadilla definitely needs its avocado and guacamole topping.
Tonight’s menu still offers soft shell crab even though our server assures me the season is over. I order the chopped salad instead, thinking it will be like Café Fiorello’s excellent rendition. But it’s a bore, mostly soggy lettuce. The duck quesadilla needs its guacamole and sour cream topping because it is otherwise a bit staid too.
The $14 side of brussels sprouts with is rich with toasted cashews and Thai peanut sauce.
Jumbo lump crabmeat and shrimp dish comes with a mound of summer corn niblets.
Shall I say the $14 side of brussels sprouts with toasted cashews and Thai peanut sauce is the triumph of the evening? It’s certainly special, although the jumbo lump crabmeat and shrimp dish is also luscious with a mound of summer corn niblets alongside.
Lobster topped mac and cheese reminds me of my Mom’s even though she used American cheese.
And I like the lobster mac and cheese. It reminds me of my mom’s crispy macaroni, even though Mom used everyday elbows and the recipe on the box with milk and supermarket American cheese while Redeye tosses aged cheddar and Gruyère with extra curvaceous cavatelli. My friend Diane disagrees. She thinks it should be creamier, even goopy. Macaroni preferences must be carried on a familial gene.
The greeter seats us in the corner overlooking the sofas on the patio.
One of Shelly Fireman’s sculptures hovers over a table of serious diners.
“This is the best table in the house,” says the host last week, seating three of us in the far corner closest to the patio and Seventh Avenue. I like facing the room, with the freshly repainted columns and the revised seafood station next to the bar, although, on second look, I would rather not be confronted with the hairy nudity on the column nearest me. (You may notice I’ve spared you a photo of it.)
Our server the second evening we came must have been new. She didn’t bring pretzel bread.
Alton is our waiter, devoted at first. He brings us pretzel rolls and butter without our asking. But eventually he’s off wooing new arrivals. And apparently his assistant doesn’t speak English since Zarela orders another glass of white wine and he neglects to tell Alton. A server passes with chocolate chip cookies warm on a baking sheet and I take one for later.
Alton tossed the excellent Cobb salad and serves Zarela her share.
I plan to order a burger with bacon or short rib boeuf bourguignon, the “house specialty.” But in the tension of weighing options and demands, I experience a little brain freeze.
My pal didn’t finish the salmon because it was more cooked than she had requested.
The Italian flat bread sounded more exciting than it tasted.
I specifically recall requesting only two items to be delivered at a time but suddenly a duo of waiters is trying to put everything on the table at once. “Take the focaccia back to the kitchen for fifteen minutes please,” I cry with only a touch of hysteria in my usual Eva Peron manner.
Imagine, I’ve come often but this is the first time I ordered the dancing shrimp.
And just in time, because a busser arrives with the spicy crunchy tuna roll with eel and sesame sauce and another bearing the dancing shrimp skewered into a whole pineapple. Where else would we put it but right where the focaccia had been parked?
I always loved the Cobb salad and it’s as good as always tonight.
All my years of history here and I believe these are my first dancing shrimp, six for $35. They are huge, stretched out on wooden sticks – best when eaten hot -- with a trio of sauces for dipping or not – pineapple, ponzu and salsa verde.
I’m the only one at our table eating onion rings tonight. It’s fear of the fried.
We let Alton toss our Cobb salad and serve it to us. The focaccia returns. It’s the same one we sent back half an hour ago “You can’t bring us a focaccia that’s been sitting half an hour,” my pal protests. “Take it away and bring a new one,” he instructs Alton’s lieutenant.
Fireman restaurants offer classic desserts like this excellent banana cream pie.
And it’s just as well that message got lost in the press of new diners because the Cobb is super rich and delicious with lobster nubbins and too much avocado for me, very filling. Nobody wants to even try dessert for journalism’s sake or any other pretext. “Shelly’s desserts are always marvelous,” I note. “We usually have the banana cream pie and the carrot cake.”
The red carrot cake is pretty but it could be much richer.
Not tonight, it seems. Alton brings chocolate chip cookies. We each take one or two and a bag of leftovers, and surrender the best table in the house.
890 Seventh Avenue between 56th and 57th Street. 212 541 9000. Breakfast 7:30 am to 11:30 am at 888 Café & Bar. Lunch Monday to Friday Red Eye Grill 11:30 to 20:30. At 888 Café & Bar 11:30 am to 5 pm. Dinner Tuesday through Saturday 5 pm to 11:30 pm. Sunday and Monday 5 pm to 11 pm. Weekend Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11:30 am to 5 pm.
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