Sailing Into the Midtown Sea
Recently, Midtown has blossomed with spots that are jockeying for position as the classics of the zero decade. Chez Louis celebrates foie gras and the simplicity of a good roast chicken, Beacon glorifies the theatricality of the open hearth, and Rue 57 curiously combines bistro fare and a sushi bar. Now sea denizens have their day at Maritime. Designed to evoke the great yachts of the past, the place is defined by rich dark woods, polished brass fittings, and a large open dining room that subtly recalls captain's tables and deck shoes.
The room was virtually empty when I arrived early for lunch during the holiday lull, but the spit-and-polish crew sprang to attention with water, bread basket, and menu. By the time my cookbook editor arrived, I was coddled, cosseted, and ready to begin with the potato skins and smoked salmon ($9). She settled on a salad ($6) as I selected a fish-worthy 1998 Chinon from what the wine list designated its "light red district." The salad was a more-than-competent rendering of the usual mesclun, but my potato skins were nothing short of glorious: a mound of hollow fried shells topped with several slices of silky salmon, I think Scotch. The heaping plate was finished with a dollop of crème fraîche and a portion of sliced cukes dressed with a light oily vinaigrette. Layered, the ingredients formed little sandwiches that played on the unctuousness of the fish and the crispness of the spuds. My editor's Japanese-beer-battered fish and chips ($17.50) was especially tasty when zapped with a dab of ginger-flecked tartar sauce. But I'd clearly won the toss, and it paled compared to the rich density of my sesame-crusted tuna ($24). Sushi-rare, as ordered, it arrived aswim in a thin dark shiitake broth that served as gravy for sticky rice and could be spiced up with an exclamation point of wasabi. We indulged in two diet-defying dessertsa moist chocolate torte with a scoop of tart tangerine sorbet for contrast and a multilevel coconut key lime pie (all desserts $7)and left knowing all was shipshape throughout this vessel.
A few weeks later, the staff did a replay of their all-hands-on-deck drill under the leadership of an Egyptian waiter, prompting my guest to exclaim, "They're involved in detail here." My dinner appetizer of potato skins was even largera good thing, since I had to shareand dotted with osetra caviar for extra texture ($13.50). His six curry fried oysters ($12) were plump and crisply tender, the mollusks returned to their shells atop a bed of frizzled leeks and cunningly presented in a mosaic of black and white sesame seeds. I had to determine whether the tuna could possibly be as wonderful as remembered and got lost again in its rich broth. His grilled swordfish ($24) was not merely properly meaty but imaginatively accompanied by rosemary spaetzle that undercut its creamy density with the slightly camphorated flavor of the herb. Not daring to defy the diet gods twice after such splendid fare, we passed, knowing that this windjammer is guaranteed to sail into the century full speed ahead.
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