food 04.7.03

The Mermaid Inn

Year: 1603. Place: Cheapside, near St. Paul's. There are two entrances to The Mermaid Tavern, one from Bread Street, the other from Friday Street. And it is through these doors, exactly 400 years ago, that Sir Walter Raleigh walks and begins his Friday Street Club, whose members include Ben Jonson, John Donne, and Shakespeare. The wit and bonhomie of the group becomes the stuff of legend.

Year: 2003. Place: East Village, near St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery. There is only one entrance to The Mermaid Inn, 96 2nd Ave. [5th/6th] 212.674.5870, and it's crowded. The team behind Red Cat and The Harrison (one of our favorites), Danny Abrams and chef Jimmy Bradley, have just opened their new seafood restaurant and the town has heard the siren's call - it is already a roaring success. Can't say if the wit and bonhomie will become the stuff of legend, but the place certainly has a warm vibe and sparkling food.

Executive chef Michael Price offers classic shrimp cocktail, New England clam chowder and pristine oysters along with more modern-style dishes such as a truffled char tartare served with celery root chips. Sautéed cod is predictably mild-mannered but the blood orange it comes with gets things hopping. Pan-seared diver scallops, with braised cabbage and horseradish-bacon beurre blanc, has a nice yin and yang thing going: balancing sea and earth, sweet (scallops) and savory (the rest). And the Catalonian seafood stew is a rousing composition of the sea's A-list.

With entrees averaging $17 and an amazingly generous wine list that asks only $15 above wholesale, you not only eat well here but at rather modest prices. The staff is, as at the other Bradley/Abrams spots, enormously hospitable. There is one caveat: it is extremely hard to get a table here. They don't take reservations and only one of their two dining rooms is opened yet. Still, lines from Keats' ode to the Mermaid Tavern come to mind.

Souls of poets dead and gone,
What Elysium have ye knownî
Happy field or mossy cavern
Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?
Getting Gen-Xers into wine is the agenda (one we heartily endorse) of Wine X magazine,, which also writes about music, fashion, videos and other lifestyle topics. The print magazine costs $21 for one year (six issues); the website also has plenty of interesting info.

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