Entries in Eric Hara (3)


Pier 9

Note: This is a review under chef Eric Hara, who is no longer with the restaurant as of May 2012. The restaurant closed in March 2013. The other restaurant mentioned in the review, 9 Restaurant, had closed a while earlier.


A month ago, the Post ran an article about the burgeoning Hell’s Kitchen restaurant scene—once desolate, lately an embarrassment of riches.

When you think about formerly downtrodden neighborhoods that became dining destinations, usually it took one major success story that made the area a magnet for the food wonks: Montrachet in Tribeca, 71 Clinton Fresh Food on the Lower East Side, to give but two examples.

Hell’s Kitchen doesn’t yet have that kind of restaurant, as far as I can tell. (I don’t count Esca, which is geographically in Hell’s Kitchen but functionally in the Theater District.) What it has is a passel of new places that make it worth traveling the extra long block or two from Eighth Avenue. Perhaps, from one of these, the breakout hit will come.

Chef Eric Hara owns two of these, the adjacent and recently-opened 9 Restaurant and Pier 9 on Ninth Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets. Hara has bounced around a bit, but his solid background includes three years as executive chef at David Burke Townhouse and a shorter stint at Burke’s Fishtail.

A move to the Oak Room at the Plaza was ill-advised, but it’s surely not Hara’s fault that the owners took the space in a more frivolous direction. A couple of brief detours brought him finally to Ninth Avenue, where he is chef and partner in these two similar restaurants.

Both 9 Restaurant and Pier 9 are relatively informal and inexpensive, with brunch menus for the weekend crowd, outdoor cafés in nice weather, and plenty of space at the bar. At a recent opening party, I found Pier 9 more attractive, and its all-seafood menu more compelling. I didn’t think I’d have the time to try both, so I made a reservation at Pier 9.

Full disclosure: I was there at the publicist’s invitation, and although I paid for my meal, I was charged much less than full price. (I show the à la carte prices in parentheses below, where I know them, but we paid a flat $60 per head.)

Jalapeño and jack cheese biscuits with honey butter (above right), served on a warm skillet, were a perfect start to the meal.

Half-a-dozen fresh, briney oysters ($17; above left) were served raw, in the usual style. A Warm Giant Brady Oyster ($8; above right) was dusted with yuzu, scallions, and tempura flakes. I have never seen this on a restaurant menu, and google is silent as to the identity of the species. Such a remarkable specimen, probably eight inches long, must be seen to be believed.

A ceviche tasting ($18; left top) included, from left to right, Shrimp Tacos with tomatilla and cucumber salsa; Big Eye Tuna Tartare with yuzu, radish, and pears; and Scottish Salmon with orange, pickled chilli, and citrus oil. The salmon was the most successful of these, with its unexpected citrus tang, followed by the shrimp tacos. The tuna tartare was a bit flat, as was a Razor Clam Ceviche ($13; left bottom) with Tuscan olive oil, cilantro mint, and Arbequina olives.

We didn’t much care for Crab & Shitake Mushroom Arancini in spicy tartar sauce ($13; above middle), which were on the greasy side. But Lobster “Mac N Cheese” ($12; above right) might be one of the restaurant’s instant hits.

Entrées, as in many seafood restaurants these days, are either composed or “simply prepared.” We were a shade less fond of the composed dishes. Sourdough Crusted Sea Bass ($25; above, far left) with prawn, mussel, and clam in a ciopino broth had too many ingredients in competition with one another. Tuna au Poivre ($28; above, middle) was a tad too salty.

But a Grilled Whole Branzino ($28; above right) with baby bok choy was terrific.

Halibut (above left) came with a choice of three sauces (above right): green curry and shitake mushroom (the best of the group), lemon, tuscan olive oil & capers, and verjus emulsion. It seemed to us that a couple of the sauces were too heavy for the fish, which couldn’t quite stand up to them.

Both desserts we tried will work for you if you’re in a playful mood: a Rice Krispie Candy Bar with mascarpone ice cream (above left) and a Pretzel & Tapioca Pudding Sundae (above right).

There were no unsuccessful dishes per se, but a few were (to our taste) a bit over-salted or over-fried, and in some instances we felt the chef would be better off letting superior ingredients shine without as much interference.

Both restaurants, Pier 9 and 9 Restaurant, were doing a brisk bar and sidewalk café business on a Wednesday evening, but could use some more patronage to fill the large space in back. Pier 9, especially, is an appealing space, done in an urban seaside motif. Nowadays, it’s fun to dine on Ninth Avenue.

Pier 9 (802 Ninth Avenue between 53rd & 54th Streets, Hell’s Kitchen)


Rolling the Dice: Fishtail

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews David Burke’s Upper East Side seafood shack, Fishtail. The Eater odds haven’t been posted as of 6:05 p.m., but we’re going to go ahead and record our bet anyway.

Update: Well, it turns out that Eater never did post the odds. Lucky for us, as our prediction (below) was wrong, so we avoided losing $1 on our hypothetical bet.

The Skinny: Fishtail had a rough early start. The original executive chef, Eric Hara, left in late February to take over the Oak Room. Dallas native John Tesar replaced him in March. We’ve heard nothing about the restaurant since then. The only major-media review, one star from Adam Platt, pre-dated Tesar’s arrival.

We liked Fishtail, rating it at 2½ stars. Like Platt, we visited while Hara was still there. Our only complaint was that the tables were packed uncomfortably close together. The fish, however, was impeccable. What we cannot assess is whether the kitchen is consistent, and whether it has improved or regressed since Tesar took over.

There are a dozen reasons why a restaurant like Fishtail would not appeal to a nitwit like Platt, even if the fish were prepared perfectly. Bruni is a far more intelligent critic. Nevertheless, the vibe of an Upper East Side socialites’ restaurant is not likely to appeal to him, and no doubt he will find some of Burke’s compositions too cute for their own good. We’re fans, but sometimes we feel that way ourselves.

Our guess is that Bruni wouldn’t be bothering to review this place so many months after the opening review cycle, unless he had something positive to say. To award one star would be an insult, and while Bruni has done that plenty of times (and will again), he’s not likely to do it for a restaurant everyone had forgotten about.

The Bet: We are betting that Frank Bruni will award two stars to Fishtail.



[Kreiger via Eater]

Note: As I predicted, Fishtail followed the pattern of other David Burke restaurants, and sank gradually into irrelevance. It closed in early 2016, long after Burke himself had moved on to other ventures.


We’re in a seafood moment, or maybe it’s just a coincidence. Over the last month, we have compelling new entries at the opposite ends of town, The John Dory in Southwest Chelsea and Fishtail on the Upper East Side. They’re stylistic opposites too: an edgy downtown vibe at one, old-money splendor at the other. Both places work more fish art into their décor than I ever believed possible.

I expect Fishtail to face a lot of skepticism among the Internet chattering class, many of whom believe the civilized world ends at 59th Street. But Fishtail in its early days is a surprisingly good restaurant. Ignore, if you must, the Park Avenue ladies and their face lifts. Focus instead on the bounty of fish, impeccably prepared.

The ringmaster here is David Burke. No mere chef, the owner (says his website) is “blurring the lines between chef, artist, entrepreneur and inventor.” Most conglomerate chefs at least adopt the pretense of dressing the part, even if you know they won’t be there after the review cycle is over. Burke doesn’t even bother. He was there on a Saturday night working the room, dressed in civvies.

I had my doubts about Fishtail. I paid three visits to his other Upper East Side restaurant, David Burke Townhouse (formerly David Burke & Donatella). Each time, I liked it a bit less than before. Many of Burke’s clever ideas looked interesting on paper, but didn’t quite work on the plate. And he’s spread awfully thin, lending his name to dubious enterprises like the laughable Hawaiian Tropic Zone.

At Fishtail, Burke and his culinary wit are on full display, but in the dishes we tried, practically all of it worked. Go ahead and serve a Rice Krispy Crabcake or Lobster Dumplings, but they’d better be good. And they were.

The menu features raw bar standards, small plates ($11–14), soups, salads & appetizers ($11–18), simple and whole fish à la carte ($21 & up, up, up), composed plates ($29–40) and side dishes ($6.50). You can spend a bundle, but with judicious ordering can have an excellent meal for around $50–60 a head (before wine).

Even the more expensive items seem reasonably priced for this kind of restaurant (e.g., Dover Sole, $40). A couple of items on our bill were were a bit lower than the amounts shown online, which suggests the menu is being adjusted to reality. Nevertheless, this is a luxury restaurant, and the service has most of the flourishes you’d expect at such a place.

As mentioned, Rice Krispy Crab Cakes ($15; above left) and Lobster Dumplings ($12; above right) were excellent. Both dishes had examples of Burke’s wit—the clever glass serving plate used for the crab cakes, the little tiny tails poking out of the dumplings. You can’t eat humor, but I’d gladly order these dishes again.

A whole Branzino ($27; above left) and a whole Red Snapper ($33; above right) were both prepared perfectly. In each case, the whole fish was presented in a skillet and then filleted at a serving station. Both were listed as portions for one, but the Snapper could easily have been for two.

There are sauces and garnishes for the whole fish, in a menu category called “Top Hats”—complement to Tails, get it? These are $7.50 apiece and ample enough to share, but I wouldn’t bother. A Gnocchi & Wild Mushroom sauce added nothing to these already excellent fish, and it was served slightly lukewarm.

Several of the whole fish are priced “by the pound,” a practice that can only lead to confusion. That Snapper, for instance, was $22/lb., but the menu stipulated it was 1½ pounds. So why not be done with it, and just put $33 on the menu? The Branzino, on the other hand, was listed at its correct price of $27.


French fries ($6.50; above left) were served in a miniature frying basket with homemade mayo. The first batch was cold and soggy. After we complained, they brought up another batch moments later, which was perfect. Cauliflower Brûlée ($6.50; above center) didn’t need a do-over: it came in a sizzling hot cast-iron dish, and was terrific.

The wine service, already very good, still needs some tweaks. A server offered to send over a sommelier before we’d even seen menus. The wine list, printed in 8-point type, is practically unreadable. What could they have been thinking? After I’d squinted my way through it, I found a great Crozes Hermitage ($50; above right). It would have been harder to find a bargain among the reds. There are some compelling verticals with real age on them, but at prices well above our budget.

The “petits-fours” (right) were little daubs of sorbet inside a candy wrapper, served on ice. It was the only time in the meal when the “chef–inventor” got too cute for his own good.

Aside from that, service was impressive, with plenty of staff in ties and vests scurrying efficiently. There were warm baguettes at the beginning of the meal, though two people shouldn’t be asked to share one butter knife.

The restaurant is set up on two floors of a townhouse, with the bar and the kitchen downstairs, and two dining rooms up above. Food runners will get plenty of exercise shuttling food upstairs, and as noted, a couple of items came out not quite warm enough.

The space is lovely, if you don’t mind bright red. It is not quite as cramped as David Burke Townhouse, but you still get a sense that there isn’t an inch to spare. Our two-top was just six inches away from the next one.

David Burke seems to have a built-in Upper East Side fan club. His earlier restaurant is perpetually packed, and his clientele seems to have followed him over to Fishtail. If I have a concern, it’s whether Burke and executive chef Eric Hara can keep up the quality after Burke moves onto other projects.

But for a one-month-old restaurant, Fishtail is impressive. I hope it will stay that way.

Fishtail (135 E. 62nd Street between Park & Lexington Avenues, Upper East Side)

Food: ★★½
Service: ★★½
Ambiance: ★★
Overall: ★★½