58 East 1 St
New York, NY 10003
Seafood, seafood, seafood. I often crave great seafood but rarely find places worth going to a second time. I’m not too sure I would go to Prima again but the food was pretty amazing. Prima is a tiny restaurant hidden on 1st and 1st. The space is tiny. The seats are tiny. The food is tiny too. But the food is deelicious and incredibly fresh. Think Upstate but with a nicer ambiance. And instead of beers at Upstate, you order cocktails at Prima. I ordered the Prima Mimosa ($10), with Little Blanc, Raspberry Puree, Yuzu Juice, Rose Water, and Prosecco. The drink was light, sweet, and slightly tart, like a grown-up sweet tart.
For our apps, we shared the crab cakes ($14) with radish, pickles, and tartar sauce, and the octopus ($14) with aromatic oil, nicoise olives, feta, and preserved lemon. The menu said crab cakeS so I left it that way in my description, even though in my photo it clearly displays a singular crab cake. Sure, the cake was good and filled with way more fresh crab meat than flour but $14 for a tiny tiny cake is a bit too much, don’t you think? Particularly because the crab cake wasn’t anything special. I can get that at any decent seafood chain. The octopus, on the other hand, was worth trying. Octopus is often too rubbery but when made right, is chewy and tender. The preserved lemon, a common Indian condiment, added more than just a slight acidity, as a fresh lemon would. Preserved lemons are intensely lemony, almost like a lemon syrup without the sweetness.
I ordered the Sea Scallops ($18) with the green condiment sauce on the side. At Prima, you’re given the choice of five different fish and scallop and then five different sauces. There is no elaborate method of cooking nor does the seafood come with anything else other than parsley, bonito butter, and the choice of sauce. My scallops were deliciously pan-fried with some shallots and parsley. The center was probably still raw the second before they took it off the fire. It was sweet, buttery, and succulent. Three was not enough. Especially since I didn’t have some sort of carby side.
The tempura hake ($16) is one of their better known dishes on the menu. Timeout New York named it one of the “Best Seafood Dishes in NYC 2012” and NYtimes calls the sandwich version a “fish sandwich for sophisticated palates.” The sandwich version comes with a bun, fries, and less fish, for $18. I urged LAW to get just the fish because I was eager to try more of the fish and figured we would order fries on the side anyway. The “mountain of fries,” as the waitress described it, was more like a little cup of fries. Quality was mediocre as well. Drenched in oil, the fries lost their crispiness.
But back to the fish. Thinking about it seriously makes me salivate. Hake is a flakey, tender, cod-like fish. Its sweetness and moisture were so well-contained in the vacuum of the fried tempura case. I used to have an aversion to fried seafood but now I understand that fried things tend to retain moisture. A.W., an avid Food Network watcher, explained that in order for deep fried things like tempura and fries to be crispy and light without being too oily, the oil must reach a very high temperature. Or as she says, be “REEAARRY hot.” According to revered source Yahoo Answers, the tempura batter itself also must be very cold. The trick is the large temperature difference.
This tempura batter happens to be light and puffy (good job Prima) and “invigorated with the bitter bite of Sam Adams lager.” The buttermilk-tarragon tartar sauce had a slight sweetness, which along with the sweetness of the fish, melded well with the more piquantly flavored tempura. I’ve never had a fried fish so delicate and with so much flavor.
J.W. asked for the toughest, meatiest fish on the menu and got the Red Snapper ($22). I didn’t get to try it but he said he had no complaints. The fish was very fresh and tasty, even though his vierge sauce, which should be a french sauce made with olive oil, lemon juice, chopped tomato, and chopped basil, tasted just like fresh tomatoes with no seasoning. He, like the rest of the table, complained about not having any carby sides to accompany the meal. A small fillet of fish is simply not enough for an entree.
Along with fries, we also shared a side of brussels sprouts ($8 or $9) with bacon and brown butter. They weren’t bad. You can’t really mess up anything with lots of bacon and butter. They weren’t soggy nor crispy. They were just sort of there and well received next to our side-free entrees. Nothing compared to Saxon+Parole…
For dessert, we had the mille feuille ($9) with vanilla pastry cream and strawberry jam. I loved this light and creamy dessert. The puff pastry sheets layered between the cream were so crisp and light. The vanilla cream was also incredibly light with just a tinge of sweetness. Literally a tinge. The flavor is more vanilla than sweet.