It’s called the fishbowl waffle, and it is wondrously absurd. This $11 sweet experiment, which headlines Seabird’s dessert menu, centers on taiyaki, the Japanese fish-shaped griddlecakes that are traditionally filled with sugary red-bean paste. The lone taiyaki here has a core of melted chocolate hidden beneath its golden-brown waffle scales. It “swims” in tart passionfruit crème anglaise, propped up against a dainty scoop of strawberry ice cream, all inside a glass fishbowl. I can’t think of a sillier confection I ate this year, but it’s honestly better than many of the overwrought “cheffy” desserts I come across in this line of work.
There’s real potential for theme desserts to go all kinds of wrong, but the reason this nautical diorama isn’t a total shipwreck is that chef Kenichi Tajima and co-owner Alon Moskovitch have both worked for, and clearly learned from, French pastry kingpin François Payard. So instead of a cloying clash, there’s balance; the waffle’s airy, buttery crumb soaks up the bowl’s fruitier elements. Eating it — hell, even looking at it — will light up the pleasure centers of your brain.
Seabird, which opened on a West Village corner in July, is a joint effort between Moskovitch and chef Bahr Rapaport, the team from the Lower East Side’s Mediterranean small-plates joint Mezetto, and Tajima and his wife, Keiko, who’ve made poultry their focus at Mountain Bird in Harlem. Like a culinary timeshare, Seabird’s kitchen alternates leadership; luckily, the two chefs — Tajima and Rapaport — manage to keep things sailing smoothly.
Personal trainers would envy the waitstaff’s regimen here, which involves parading a never-ending stream of tiered towers of fruits de mer through the bustling, skiff-size dining room. Populist in its pricing, Seabird offers $30 and $65 samplers that are plenty grand and include glossy oysters with harissa mignonette, pleasantly chewy conch ceviche, and excellent cocktail shrimp. The latter arrive succulent and stained green with garlicky persillade, a French sauce fortified with butter and parsley. Of the composed raw bar selections, you’re better off opting for the bright, minty branzino crudo over the trendier, but ultimately tame, salmon poke nested atop seaweed salad.
The diverse savory menu is divided into a whopping six sections, and plenty of items stand out — some for better, some worse. The clams benefit from a citrusy steam in Belgian-style white ale, while the octopus fritters, called takoyaki, are soft and sumptuous inside, their crisp coating drizzled with curry aioli and squid ink. The elbow macaroni and gruyère dish — which easily passes the melted-cheese stretch test — can be loaded with conch or, even better, crab. And Tajima and Rapaport deserve a round of applause for creating a kale salad — its greens rejuvenated by nutty spelt and caesar dressing — that doesn’t underwhelm. Steer clear of the lobster tostada, however; although filled with big chunks of nicely cooked meat, the well-intentioned French-Mexican mash-up falls flat due to the awkward congress of sweet bisque and tangy salsa.
Seabird puts crustaceans to better use in a relatively affordable $21 lobster roll thermidor slicked with béarnaise. It’s one of a half-dozen sandwiches offered, all of which come heaped with truly excellent fast-food style fries. The “crispy fish burger,” really a fillet of flaky buttermilk-brined cod, is crusted in crunchy panko and topped with tartar sauce and malt vinegar slaw. And despite its focus on seafood, the kitchen also puts out a damn fine cheeseburger, layered with aged cheddar, bacon, and a barbecue sauce that’s worryingly truffled yet still manages to taste great.
Speaking of beef, there’s a surf-and-turf entrée of hanger steak and shrimp, though the seafood-focused main courses, like roasted dorade with lemony potatoes and olive tapenade, are surer bets. Corn and smoky bacon bolster scallops, the bivalves seared hard. Then there’s the bouillabaisse, which Tajima makes by reducing fish bones and lobster shells with aromatics like white wine, pastis, tomato, and saffron before adding littleneck clams and sea bass to the dish. Crimped dumplings, filled with sweet shrimp, also bob in the broth. Stir in the accompanying parsley pesto and excavate the dish’s briny depths. Each spoonful is exquisite, like taking a deep, meditative breath at the shore.
361 Sixth Avenue
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 5, 2016