Manhattan is anything but a cozy New England cove town (Patti Page's 'Old Cape Cod,' anyone?). That much we know. Instead of a charmingly salty mix of gray fishermen and painters of white picket fences, we've got a crock pot of cutting-edge creatives and sharply suited power brokers. But such a reality is easy to forget when you're eating like the fishing charter just docked five minutes ago. Tiny Fork, a chic interpretation of the typical East Coast seafood shack, brings fresh fish and breezy cocktails to the Lower East Side with cosmopolitan style.
This part of town buzzes once dark falls. The LES is the most fashionable of contradictions—the merchants of Chinatown mix with artsy yuppies and bridge-and-tunnel bar hoppers, making the walk to dinner around 8 p.m. feel like a study in the urban melting pot. The exterior of Tiny Fork is unassuming—a brick-faced building with big glass-paneled doors in a pale, seafaring blue; gray signs herald 'COCKTAILS' and 'RAW BAR' (two of my favorite concepts). Inside, the décor blends nostalgic maritime with a downtowner's cool sensibility: thick, coiled ropes hang from antique light fixtures, fishing net is draped from the dining room ceiling, sanded oars are propped in a corner, rusty boating hooks sit next to ruby red bottles of Campari on high shelves. Blue steel bar stools and turquoise banquettes and white marble countertops and mason jar candle holders and white tile floors. Everything is undeniably nautical and nostalgic, yet—perhaps due to the airy layout, the indie playlist, the edgy 'hood, or a combination of all these things—there's a very "now" feel to the joint. I'm ready to order.
A spunky waitress wearing a casual, black-and-white flannel seats me, a tray of cloudy cocktails balanced in her hand. I'll have one of those. "Ah, the Misty Mermaid it will be," she sings. It came in a clean Collins glass, and the crisp blend of Tanqueray gin, lime, cucumber, mint and soda set my ship to sail. Here, all plates are easily shared on the recently revamped menu, where classic standbys, such as fried fish tacos with pickled onion and corn salsa, are joined by new experimental options, such as a sesame-crusted ahi tuna salad with arugula, kale, cabbage, pineapple, sesame-teriyaki vinaigrette.
Having been reared on the East Coast, I knew just what I wanted: oysters, Cap'n. A selection of East Coast specimens for me—I like the salt and brine—but West Coast ones are on offer, too. The oysters, six per person and arranged in a geographically diverse fan of pre-shucked deliciousness, came with shallot-red vinegar and cocktail sauces (if you insist on desecrating what is a naturally perfect and blissful raw food, feel free to do so). The clam chowder shouldn't be missed (New England-style; sorry, Manhattan, but you're not even on the menu). This soup was a creamy dream, with cooked clams floating in a milky broth with butter-soft, peeled potato slices (hint: crumble the oyster crackers over the bowl and prepare to float away). Pair those two dishes with a lightly dressed kale caesar salad and you're cruising in a schooner past lonely lighthouses and stately dune cliffs.
Time for another course, but not before a cocktail interlude. Dark & Stormys are made true to tradition: Gosling's Black Seal rum, ginger beer and lime. Blackbeard himself would grin after throwing one of these back.
One glance at the main plates and I understood why this place had been referred to as a seafood "shack": They're serving boardwalk classics. Fried calamari with house aioli and marinara for dipping comes wrapped in a paper cone and placed in a fries basket. The lobster grilled cheese, served on buttered Pullman bread with a sea of melty aged white cheddar, was soft, decadent and satisfying.
Sailors, at least in the cartoons, often sing "shave his belly with a rusty razor." I left with belly so bursting that it would pop if a razor—rusty or otherwise—came anywhere close.
>>Tiny Fork, 167 Orchard St., at Stanton St., 212.777.8469, tinyforknyc.com
Photo credits: Greg Sorensen