December 9, 2019 | BITE: My Journal
On The Waterfront: The Fulton
Lightly-fried Hopper shrimp with bottarga and lemon-champagne aioli.
My pals Polly and Rick Devereau offer to pick me up and take me to dinner Friday if I will get us a table at some impossible place they can’t score. They had struck out at Portale, Palais of Perfect Pie, Jean-George’s new Fulton, and the Cathedral in the Lower East Side Moxie Hotel.
The U-shaped bar at The Fulton is empty when we arrive.
I call my secret contact. She agrees to try for a table at The Fulton. At 7 pm we are racing down the West Side Highway in the Devereau BMW looking for Pier 17. We zoom past it and circle back. Rick calls The Fulton. “We’re going to be late,” he says. “Where are you? Are you near the blue building?”
We pass a parking lot. Rick swerves toward the blue building and stops as he was about to drive off the pier. “You and Polly go find it and I’ll park somewhere,” he says.
It’s bitterly cold as we walk around looking for the entrance. Then, yes. It’s here.
Polly and I earned our scout badges finding turkey in the 7th Arrondissement of Paris and coaching the butcher in how to make stuffing. Tonight, it’s a long, cold walk from the car toward the water, but finally we spy the revolving door marked The Fulton.
En route to our table at the window, we pass the bar.
Here’s a prep station in the dining room of The Fulton.
We take an elevator and follow the maître d’ to our table. And there is Rick trying not to look too superior. “Walking up the stairs is faster than the elevator,” he announces.
A waiter drops off the Black Sea Bass En Croute on a tray near our booth.
Rick and Polly decide we should order the most expensive item on the menu – the whole Black Sea Bass en croute marked MP (meaning market price. That’s $120 tonight.) “How about the fish stew,” I suggest. “It’s just $32.”
“You ought to taste the whole fish en croute in case you need something special to write about and we don't come back again soon,” says Polly.
Polly shares her yellowfin tuna tarttare with yuzu mustard and shaved fennel.
Our server brings three glasses of wine and a plate of brown and beige rectangles: crusty bread, wonderful bread. I’m ravenous, starting at once on the bread. The three of us agree to share two appetizers: I choose the lightly fried Hopper shrimp and Polly selects the yellowfin tuna tartare with yuzu mustard sauce and shaved fennel. Rick is not complaining.
Our captain presents the fish whole while an assistant sets out plates and silver for serving.
The Sea Bass is elegant in its etched-scale croute. The server divides the crust with a sharp knife and lifts the flesh from its bones. He is slow and precise, dividing the top side among three plates with a mound of tangy smashed tomato alongside.
The stew – fish, scallops, mussels, clams and prawns -- is thickened with aioli.
The fancy presentation reminds us of the original crusted bass by Paul Bocuse. It is even the same sauce choron. I remember the Bocuse crust as more delicate. But that was France and we were young and everything was wonderful. I take some scallops and a couple of mussels from the stew, but we clearly won’t be able to finish it.
The sweet tart taste of apples is very refreshing.
We agree on apple crisp à la mode for dessert. This crust is a bit crude, too. But the apples are delicious. I’d love to go back to The Fulton. I love this table looking out at the river traffic. I want to try the Long Island fluke with habanero vinaigrette, the crispy calamari, the Longevity noodles with glazed lobster and the swordfish scallopini in brown butter. But if I took a cab from my Upper West Side perch, it would add $90 round trip or more to the adventure, depending how lost we get.
Jean-Georges gets ready to open the Fulton, his first fish restaurant.
I’ve been a fan of Jean-Georges since, as resident chef for Louis Outhier in the Lafayette at the Drake Hotel, he set new highs for contemporary cooking. Click here to read Lafayette: The Drake’s Progress, March 19, 1990. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that was him, as a local, training at the Auberge de I’Ill near Alsace the day, eons ago, that I spent watching the action in the kitchen while my traveling companion visited his parents nearby.
When Jean-Georges is in town, you are likely to see him in two or three of his restaurants.
Do you remember Vong? It was a New York magazine cover. Jean-Georges opened the Haverson-Rockwell designed pearwood doors “and the whole Manhattan toot and scramble tumbled in, ” I wrote. Click here to read The Vong Show, on Insatiable Critic, January 25, 1993.
My guy, Steven Richter, took this photo on the roof of Spice Market in Instanbul in 2008..
For four decades, Vongerichten’s fans have followed him around the world. I recall eating Jean-Georges favorites on the roof of his restaurant in Istanbul. And at The Market in Paris. He now has 36 restaurants around the world, including Mercato in Shanghai and Guangzhou. The Fulton, in the area where the chef first fell for the energy of the former Fulton Fish Market in 1986, may be hard to find, but it’s worth the effort.
The chef and interior designer Yabu Pushelberg have used hand-painted murals inspired by Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea to invoke sea monsters and legendary voyages. Take the time to look.
I‘m hoping Polly and Rick will call again soon now that we’ve mastered the route. I’ll treat next time. I have a number to call for a prime table.
89 South Street. Pier 17. South Street Seaport. 212 838 1200. Monday through Friday and Sunday noon to 2:30 pm. Dinner Monday through Thursday and Sunday 5 pm to 10:30 pm. Dinner Friday and Saturday 5 pm to 11 pm.
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