The Minnow was so packed on a recent Friday
evening that you’d swear the restaurant was giving away free
dinners. It’s true that there were no seafood restaurants in
Park Slope, and the neighborhood needed one badly, but really,
all this hoopla over fish?
The buzz surrounding this tiny place could be heard in communities
for miles around; there’s even talk of it on Chowhound.com, the
internet site for the food obsessed. What’s the big deal? Fish
and little else, an exciting wine list and a scene (yes, a restaurant
close to Seventh Avenue with a "scene"). Who could
have imagined it?
The restaurant looks like one you’d find on the Upper East Side.
It’s small and narrow with lots of warm wood and softly tinted
walls. The service is solicitous and attractive (our waitress
could double for Charlize Theron) and even the busboy said, "I
hope you enjoy your meal." Locals crowding the small bar
are young and hip, or older and hip, and don’t mind waiting for
seats nose-to-nose. To sit, you do a little shimmy between the
closely spaced tables, praying that you don’t knock wineglasses
into entrees on your way.
Is all the hype deserved? Well, yes and no. I liked the decor,
and wasn’t bothered by the closely spaced seating, which makes
dining at the Minnow feel intimate.
The problem lies with the food.
When chef and owner Aaron Bashy, formerly of Le Bernardin in
New York, keeps his cooking simple, it’s wonderful. When he strays
from classic seafood preparations – just roasting a fish and
splashing it with a zesty sauce, or simply accompanying impeccably
fresh shellfish with a housemade sauce – his dishes are less
Start with the appetizers. The East and West Coast oysters, Wellfleet
and Steamboat Springs that evening, were the freshest I’ve tried.
Slurp one down and it’s a bracing ocean wave of briny flavor.
Served with a spicy mignonette (a French sauce of red wine, white
pepper and shallots) and crunchy, housemade oyster crackers,
seafood doesn’t get any better than that.
While nothing beats raw seafood, I was willing to try the octopus
ravioli in a Parmesan-tomato broth. The dish was pleasant, the
tender filling mildly flavored with chives and tarragon, but
the sauce was under-spiced. It’s not a bad dish, but you won’t
lie in bed thinking about it either.
The house specialty that is reeling in diners, and leaving them
sighing, is the whole roasted market fish. That evening a big
black bass was served with a saffron-and-ginger tomato sauce.
The impressive fish filled most of a large plate. The skin could
have been crisper, but the flesh was moist and full-flavored,
and the piquant sauce perfectly complemented the mild bass. A
side of mashed potatoes was rich to the extreme and made deliciously
salty by the inclusion of olives. A squash gratin, delicate and
fresh flavored, balanced the stronger flavors of the fish and
those tangy potatoes.
Bashy is willing to cook any seafood on the menu to your specifications.
If you want your bass grilled, ask for it grilled.
For $17 I was disappointed to receive four, not overly large
shrimp, in the shrimp kabob entree. I had hoped for big prawns
served with chunks of onion and peppers, generously seasoned
with garlic. This appetizer-sized portion, with little squares
of onions and orange sections, was timid in presentation and
flavor. The sides, a delectable, creamy polenta, flavored with
chestnuts, and crisp, garlicky haricot verts (French green beans)
were the understudies that stole the show.
Bashy has thoughtfully included a green market vegetable plate
and lamb chops entree for those who always order the wrong thing
in a restaurant.
Bashy collaborates with his wife Vicky on the pastries, and again,
some are good and some aren’t. I tried the warm chocolate souffle
with vanilla ice cream. The souffle was rich with bittersweet
chocolate flavor, and the ice cream tasted of vanilla beans.
The king cake (a special that evening) was a leaden, yeasty affair
filled with undersweetened almond paste that ended my dinner
with a dull thud.
Also on the menu is a French apple tart, banana cheesecake, a
fruit plate, ice creams and sorbets, and the new dessert du jour,
the beignet. Bashy’s version is filled with pineapple and served
with caramel sauce and ice cream.
Bashy recognizes the need for a restaurant in Park Slope that
serves good seafood at prices that don’t leave diners reeling.
Though he succeeds beautifully in many respects, he’s cast his
net too wide. For The Minnow to be more than a big fish in a
little sea he needs to follow this motto – cook it simply and
they will come.
The Minnow (442 Ninth St. at Seventh
Avenue) accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners
Club. Entrees: $15-$19. The Minnow is closed Tuesdays. For reservations,
call (718) 832-5500.