(Allen Leung and Daniel Moy at Tides)
May 7 Update: 2007 Spring Menu Highlights
BLT Salad: Mesclun greens, vine ripened tomatoes, thin shaved red onion, tossed in a creamy sun-dried tomato dressing. Garnished with Tomato/Garlic Crostini and torn thick sliced bacon.
Tides’ Lobster Roll: Succulent sweet lobster meat, tossed lightly with lemon juice, lemon zest, diced cucumbers, fresh ground black pepper and mayonnaise. Served with sweet potato chips.
Pan Seared Salmon Fillet: Served medium-rare, with Creamy Barley (pearl barley with sautéed yellow onions, carrots, butter, flour, spices, milk, grated Gruyere cheese and parsley chiffonade).
Pan Roasted Cod Fillet:
Day Boat Chatham Cod lightly dusted with flour and pan roasted. Served with a Ragout of Wild Mushrooms with fresh herbs and grilled Asparagus spears.
(Dash Dogs on Rivington)
Internet food forums and weblogs? "They absolutely own this industry now." Music to my ears, of course, and all the more welcome coming from the owners of the classic American seafood boite Tides, a favorite on my local restaurant circuit - not to mention the round-the-corner snackshack Dash Dogs. "They're more honest than the critics who come in, eat one or two meals, and never come back. They're interested in what we're doing, they know what we're about, and the forums are a good venue for listening to customers and finding out what we're doing right and wrong."
And Tides, as Allen Leung and Steven Yee happily admit, was launched by an internet foodie.
[Continue reading for a special Pink Pig/Tides offer.]
Day Boat Chatham Cod lightly dusted with flour and pan roasted. Served with a Ragout of Wild Mushrooms with fresh herbs and grilled Asparagus spears
"I remember her," said Steven "She was our third customer. Sat right over there." He gestures across the small, neat space. "She wrote us up on Chowhound and Mouthfuls, and that's where it all started." Yes, indeed - djk - for that is her online handle: she raved, we all followed. I must have eaten my first meal at Tides within a week of her report.
"Yes, we remember you too. Sitting in the corner with your family." Scarfing the lobster roll - the first edition, garnished with dill and mayo, and a rich corn pudding overdue to rotate back onto the seasonal menu. That was back in the summer of 2005, and the internet fine-beaks who made their way to this grey, dusty block upstream of Delancey had plenty of suggestions: the lobster roll had too much dressing/not enough dressing, the fries weren't crisp enough (these days, the option is addictive sweet potato fries), the clams were strips, not bellies. See how annoying we can get. But we kept going back, enjoying the fried oysters, the great whole fish choices - especially the tilapia and the striped bass, and the subsequent incarnations of the roll: with tarragon and cucumber, with lemon zest and thyme.
For informed eaters, this remote outpost of civilised seafood became an essential part of the downtown dining scene, a stand-out in the neighborhood for its cooking just as much as for its jaw-dropping design (by LES architects LTL) - a room essentially shaped like a shoe-box on end, converted to rational proportions by some 120,000 wooden stalactites cascading from the high ceiling.
Of course, it's not just the dining scene which has undergone rapid transformations on the Lower East Side over the last four or five years; the whole neighborhood is undergoing a sometimes painful process of renewal.
Where Tides was once the only light shining in the darkness (other than sadly doomed music bar Tonic), two adjacent lounges have opened, the hidden entrance to the mock-speakeasy The Back Door is just nearby, and the huge, irregular bulk of Bernard Tschumi's Blue Condominiums tower is a looming new presence.
The Tides guys are used to living through changes. Allen grew up in Chinatown, never far from the LES. His father ran a number of traditional Chinese restaurants (notably Silver Palace), and Allen worked in the kitchens and front-of-house. After twelve years in finance, downtown lured him back - Tides is his first restaurant venture. Steven and Daniel Moy, managing partner of Dash Dogs, are from Chinatown too, and although Daniel's family worked in various businesses - groceries, cleaning, transportation - Dash Dogs is his first experience serving food.
What do they think of the so-called gentrification of the LES? Daniel thinks the neighborhood has certainly changed for the better: "It's bad that gentrification can push some of the locals out, but it used to be a hazard to your personal safety to walk around here after dark." They see both sides of the issue, because they see themselves not only as businessmen but also as part of the community. The honest position is that a safer neighborhood is just a good thing from the business perspective. "We're local kids," says Steven. "We're not rich. We're not millionaires from Europe coming into rip the community off. We bridge the gap." And as for the ad hoc alliance of community boards and community activists seeking to push back against the booming hospitality industry in areas like the East Village and the LES: "Do you wants drugs and guns, or noise and bars?" Not only do the guys give the hospitality industry credit for improving safety after dark in these once uninviting streets, they single out Keith McNally (whose Schiller's Liquor Bar is a few steps from Tides) for special mention:
"He was the first big name down here. He has opened restaurants where people didn't want to be." With McNally come crowds of customers, busy sidewalks, life after dark. "That's the true test of power: being able to change a community. A restaurateur can't do more than that."
Tides and Dash Dogs have been making their own modest contributions: gift certificates, for instance, for local good causes like the Bard High School (nyc.gov link); employing young local workers at Dash Dogs.
Dash Dogs had opened in November 2005, right around the corner from Tides on Rivington Street, with Daniel Moy as managing partner.
If Tides is seafood dressed up - casual but a little bit smart - Dash Dogs is home-made fast food dressed-down: another tiny room, cutely imagined. Through the In door, the floor rises steeply to the counter. Order, snack from the narrow wooden bar which divides the room, and the slope carries you down again and out the Out door.
As you'd expect, Dash Dogs was originally all about dogs, Empire National Kosher, thick of circumference, with a snappy skin. Vegetarian options, as befits downtown: a tofu dog from Yves Veggie Cuisine, a vegetarian sausage from Field Roast. Mustard, pickled jalapeños, sauerkraut, all well sourced from the nearby Pickle Guys. Toppings - some twenty or more - home-made. For myself, I admit I am corrupted by the skinny, mouth-burning deep-fried dogs at Dawgs on the Park; when I hit Dash Dogs, it's for the sliders, introduced last summer. Their own patties, made fresh daily (a veggie pattie too, of course), served on potato rolls, three for $7 if you're hungry. The signature toppings are whimsical - the Boss Tweed, for example, "Raw onions, cerrano & jalepeno, chili, cheese wiz". Predictably, Dash is busiest soothing the liquor-stressed systems of late-night bar-goers (Daniel confesses to being a bar-hopper himself), serving through 4am or even later - 5.30 last New Year's Eve.
(Sliders and dogs at Dash)
Tides itself caters, Allen estimates, to about sixty per cent local residents and/or regular customers. Travellers are welcome, of course - even Europeans, if only they remember what it means to tip. The kitchen and the menu are the domain of Judy Seto, a veteran of the popular West Village lobster shack Mary's Fish Camp. Judy makes the most popular menu item, the lobster roll, from freshly-shucked lobsters. She's responsible for re-conceptualising the menu as the seasons change. Right now, Tides is emerging from a cool weather menu with Norwegian accents. Pleased as one might be to see the sun start shining, the seafood gratin will be missed: a sizzling, cheese-crusted casserole of smoked whitefish baked in cream with onion, garlic and mushrooms.
The spring menu is due in a couple of weeks.
In 2007, Manhattan offers a variety of templates for modern dining. Thinly disguised discotheques (sorry, lounges) where the food is just another part of the soundtrack. Tapas menus, cleverly disguising the $45 entree by serving it as a series of "small plates". Vast Iron Chef-inspired arenas, more banquet halls than restaurants. Gastro-pubs. Mezzes 'n' hookahs. Haute couture steaks. Personally, I am a booster (as the blessed Liebling would have said) for the neighborhood restaurant with an intelligent, regularly changing menu, fresh food well-prepared, correct service, and some restraint where it comes to music, gimmicks and a scene for the sake of it. The much-missed Uovo was an ambitious, flawed, enjoyable attempt to bring something of the sort to Alphabet City. Tides has put down a firm anchor on Norfolk Street. I am looking forward to the new lobster roll. But each to their own:
Information at the Tides web-site.
SPECIAL PINKPIGNYC/TIDES OFFER: Until the end of May 2007, first time diners at Tides receive 10% discount as Sign of the Pink Pig readers. E-mail me for details: email@example.com.