Fish Tag, a seafood parlor and wine bar on the Upper West Side, serves Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Located on the bottom floor of a townhouse, it has an unpretentious façade, so you might easily miss it—unless you happened to know better.
At the front of the restaurant is the bar room. The bar’s granite counter, speckled with black and white, sprawls almost the length of the room. And a brick wall serves as the bar’s backdrop—warm and welcoming.
The dining room offers a casual setting, with dark gray tabletops surrounded by clean white walls and large windows. A granite-topped display table in the center is used as a bread and cheese station, along with other goodies.
For a light meal one can sit at the bar and select from the “secondary menu,” according to Fish Tag manager Gianni Cionchi.
A Menu Like No Other
The menu itself is designed like no other and divided into a few different sections.
The lengthy list of menu items under both the Cheese Service and the Cured Meat Service, are color-coded with red and black. Brackets along the sides of the menu list some suggested pairing of wines, beers, and cocktails, and yes, wines by the half bottle.
Gianni must have noticed my raised eyebrows and questioning look as I peered at the menu. He quickly proceeded to explain the layout of the multi-colored menu.
“Its structure is linear–top to bottom, light to heavy. Red is light and black is heavy,” he explained.
A two-page list of beverages and specialty cocktails offers some interesting combinations, like Midnight in Paris made with Brenne whisky, Busnel Calvados, elderflower, chamomile, and honey syrup.
Had I been in the mood, I would have tried the Thyme Goes By, which was highly recommended by the person sitting next to me.
My friends and I decided to share a combination platter of Gaspe Salmon ($8.50), Irish Salmon ($8.50), Pastrami Salmon ($8), and the “must-try” Smoked Tuna ($7.5).
From the Cheese Service, we ordered the earthy and moist Italian Piemonte La Tur ($6), which has a taste that lingers on; a locally made New York cheese with a sweet velvety taste, Hudson Red ($6.5); and from Wisconsin, Pleasant Ridge Reserve ($5.75), which has an incredible savory and sweet finesse.
I would have been content to just continue nibbling on these delicacies, but more beckoned.
We explored some of the out of the ordinary creations on the Dinner Menu, which featured the same design as the secondary menu that we had just sampled.
By now, we knew the drill. Black and red—light and delicate is red, and heavy and bold is black. I was perplexed at the combinations of ingredients and the dishes that carried extra explanations about their taste. But once I figured out how to navigate around it, I found some of the dishes satisfying and others charming. There are simpler dishes, like grilled fish with a drizzle of fresh lemon juice. But instead, we decided to share a wide range of dishes, mezze style.
The dishes featured ingredients from the entire Mediterranean. Most have stacks of ingredients but somehow, they seem to be miraculously put together. Take for example the Tuscan Kale and Smoked Trout Salad ($11) prepared with Bartlett pear, hazelnuts, flatbread, mustard vinaigrette, and red onions; or the Grilled Prawn, Feta, & Spicy Chilies Bruschetta ($11) with cumin. I thought this latter dish was very interesting, with many contrasting flavors–salty, hot, sour, and sweet with a light finish from the chilies.
The Smoked Octopus ($13) topped them all. It is a must-have. The smoked and grilled octopus was so tender, accompanied by fingerling potatoes, hearts of palm, date and green olive puree, snow pea leaves, and pumpkin seeds.
The Catalan Shrimp ($12) with fluffy feta cheese got my attention for an ingredient that I love so much, but that is not common here: zatar, an herb-spice blend. The dish also included patatas bravas, which came in an iron skillet. I loved the crispiness of the potatoes.
There was the Grilled Branzino Stuffed with Head Cheese ($26), which is a type of meat made from the hogs’ and cows’ feet and heads. “Head cheese with fish?” I had wondered. It seemed to have many admirers, but no, it was not for me.
The Grilled Swordfish & Greek Sausage ($25) on spicy bulgur salad was a charming creation, although my first reaction had been similar to the previous one. “Grilled sausage and fish on tabbouleh?” But yes, it was worth a try. It arrived perfectly executed—a faint pink.
One can end the meal with a selection of cheeses or choose from the intriguing selection of ice cream and sorbets ($5), such as Black Currant-Cassis or Dark Chocolate, which were not available that evening. So we ended our meal with a classic and fabulous light and fluffy Semolina Cake.
Although I was still bewildered by the unusual creations of these dishes, I left satisfied.
222 W. 79th St. (between Broadway and Amsterdam)
Sunday through Thursday, 5 p.m.–10 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 11pm.
Cured fish and meats are served at the bar one hour after the kitchen closes.