Fish Tag is an unassuming little cross between a wine bar and modern seafood restaurant with Greek influences on West 79th Street. You could easily walk right past, since the entrance is below street level, but you'd be missing out on some of the best dishes on the Upper West Side. Executive Chef and Owner Michael Psilakis is perhaps better known for his more casual and traditional Greek restaurant Kefi, and for the former Anthos, which I mourn since it offered the best modern high end Greek food in NYC before closing its doors a few years ago.
We booked via Open Table, and arrived right on time for our early dinner reservation, after walking over from the nearby Natural History Museum. The entrance, which opens into the bar area, is dim, but we were welcomed by the host and led to our table in the 60 person dining area. This area enjoys some nice natural light during the day, thanks to skylights:
We were happy to see our favorite sheeps milk dumplings and lamb burger with whipped feta and chilis were still on the menu, and our server also mentioned several appetizer specials. Instead of having distinct appetizer and entree sections, the menu groups food items by the type of wine they go with, and within each group, from lightest to heaviest (the lightest dishes are in red font, and heavier dishes in black font).
Our lighter dishes came out first. The Bakala Skordalia Brandade Melt was good with nice contrast among the salty bakala (cod fish) skordalia (garlic aioli), smoky eggplant puree and oven dried tomatoes, although a bit smaller than I anticipated:
Our server had recommended the Pork Belly special, which was very summery, accompanied by lightly grilled watermelon, salad and a sprinkling of feta. I did feel that there could have been a few more pieces of pork belly, however:
The strong highlight for me was the Smoked Octopus. I wished we'd ordered 2 of these, it was so good. Even my husband, who when we ordered it claimed not to like octopus, enjoyed it. And the munchkin couldn't get enough of it either. Any smoked octopus dish that a 5-year old is begging to eat more of has to be darn good, right?
Our larger dishes were favorites that we'd ordered before. The lamb burger was cooked exactly as requested, and also per our request came with the whipped chili spiked feta on the side, so that we could just slather it on our pieces, but not the munchkin's. This is a great deal at $16 for a filling dish, and comes with very thick cut fries (ketchup available on request). The burger is also available for a supplement on the Fish Tag brunch menu, if you opt for a midday feast rather than dinner.
My favorite large dish is the sheeps milk dumplings. While not quite as light as I remember those at Anthos being, they're still much lighter than traditional gnocchi, and are in a delectable crab fonduta with Maine crab meat and baby spinach, adorned with crispy speck.
There's also a whole other appetizing, charcuterie and cheese menu that we didn't even touch, but will come back and try. The only slight afterthought here seems to be dessert, but even I, dessert fiends as I am, don't miss it much here because the savory dishes are so satisfying. Fish Tag does now offer a few desserts, but I'm still most fond of ending a meal here with gelato or sorbet, which is sourced locally from Il Laboratorio del Gelato. On this occasion, we chose Dark Chocolate, Mission Fig, and Cassis (Black Currant) which accompanied each other very well. Cassis in particular is a refreshing sweet tart finale after a hearty meal here.
The Verdict: Anthos is one of the few places on the Upper West Side I'd go back to again and again. There's no pretension, just good food and the ease of mixing and matching smaller plates, plates of cured meat, smoked fish and a variety of cheeses with good wine pairings.
Have you tried Fish Tag or have another favorite restaurant in NYC?
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