Saturday, September 5, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: And We Venture West, or Seafood and Mosquitoes on the Water

One thing I have to concede is that hopping from neighborhood to neighborhood in search of the ideal abode really helps to open your eyes about a place. You see the good (houses you can't afford), the bad (houses you can afford), and the ugly (houses you can afford with gang symbols graffiti-ed onto your potential neighbor's house). But along with all the residential findings, the commercial findings can be rewarding in itself. By exhausting yourself during the househunt by not imposing too many geographic restrictions on desired properties, you really learn a lot about the hidden nooks and crannies in a place.

It was in such a manner that I learned of Freeport's Nautical Mile. Boy and I actually almost bought a gorgeous industrial style loft condo in the SpaHa-type downtown neighborhood in Freeport until we found out that the taxes would fuck us. I wasn't too put off by the demographics of the neighborhood, considering that we'd just moved from a place that was self-styled as the "Chocolate City" and held one of the highest murder rates in the country. I always felt safe there and think that these titles are all hooey.

But anyway, Boy had been working really hard over the past month or so in making sure we got the dream house we'd had our hearts set on. This place is seriously just perfect -- a contemporary loft master suite, soaring ceilings, recessed property, 8 skylights, patios galore, and a fully updated kitchen with custom oak cabinets. *Swoon.* And the icing on the cake? It's two blocks off the mouth of the Connetquot River in Idle Hour in Oakdale, Suffolk County, Long Island, the prestigious and exclusive area that used to be part of the Vanderbilt estate. So, umm, yeah, Boy's been stressed with pushing this deal through, since it's the opportunity of a lifetime.

But I digress, as I tend to do.

Point is, I decided that enough sulking was enough! We were getting our frickin house come hell or high water (which, judging by the flood insurance rates, is more likely than the former), and I was going to enjoy living on Long Island, damnit! Or at least give it a more fair go.

So as a reward for Boy's perseverence and to help bring down his stress levels, I decided to show my appreciation by way of a nice night out. I thought it'd be more adventuresome to venture away from home grounds, and it struck me that maybe instead of considering the jam-packed East End for entertainment and dining options, I should mayhaps head WEST.

As a native Suffolk County-er, this is revolutionary thinking.

I asked around my office, my creative director actually being a resident of the waterfront community of Freeport, and received some good recommendations. After Googling and searching the sites of said recommendations, I settled on J.C. Cove for dinner. The prices seemed reasonable, the food tasty, and where else better to get seafood than by the sea? After an hour mulling about waiting for our *ahem* "punctual" Dupree, Jared (yes, Jared was invited to date night. He is a vital part of our relationship; as my little sister says, he's "the fun part" lol), we set off for destinations unknown (... to Boy. I was keeping this a secret date.).

J.C. Cove is a bit far down the strip, almost to the end by the sightseeing piers -- which is a gorgeous sight all lit up in night-tinged cerulean blue in the evening. The restaurant was distinctive in that there was a totally popping bar with a big-screen TV outside playing some kind of sports game (I'm not activities-inclined, so I wouldn't know what was on ...), and hordes of people just swelling throughout the place. I valet-parked my car, a service the restaurant is so kind to offer, given the masses that were convening on the Nautical Mile, making parking sparse, and we hopped on out.

At first glance, the restaurant seemed awfully promising. The interior was clean, modern, with beautiful wide-planked walnut-stained floors, and plenty of candles. The breeze blew through the open doors that led to open-air dining on the waterfront deck that overlooked the inlet, and the docked boats were pristine and picturesque.

Naturally, we asked about sitting outdoors. I mean, why not? It was a beautiful day, this last weekend of summer, and the temperature was temperate and the humidity level very comfortable. Our hostess was obliged to inform us that it was "very buggy" out, which promptly made me agree to sit indoors. The boys went to hang out on the deck for a hot minute first, but ultimately decided that a table inside would probably be a good call.

Umm ... it wasn't.

We sat down at a nice table towards the front window of the restaurant, and Boy, on his big fancy date night, was promptly bitten all about the ankles and feet by what I'm convinced was an orderly flank of mosquitoes. They hovered, attacked, and retreated like militants at battle, swarming about our heads in a buzzing cloud of voracious demonspawn, divvying up me and Jared when taking breaks from poor Boy.

At first, I tried to ignore it. I really did. But after being bit on the arch of my foot, and my underarm, with the bumps swelling into big, hard nasties, I was seriously considering running back into the car and continuing my nice dinner in a sweatshirt. Instead, I decided I would chill out and eat some mini baguettes, which were dusted with flour, a little hard but not crunchy, but on the whole, somewhat nondescript. But I never turn down bread, and so I enjoyed.

That enjoyment wasn't long to last. Reaching up to move my hair out of my face, I pulled my hand back with a gruesome discovery. The tips of my fingers glistened a bright ruby red in the candlelight with blood. My blood. From my head. Possibly also from the bloated belly of a mosquito.

Now I've eaten at Jacques-imo's and thought it was worth the stray palmetto bug crawling up the walls. I've dined at places where a horsefly has bitten me on the nose mid-meal. I've also had meals at restaurants with the filthiest floors and gnats circled above your head like vultures. But never once, until last night, was I forced to flee to the bathroom in a panic because my forehead was covered in blood.

Now I'm not a one to try to run around and get as much free shit as possible, but when your customer asks for bug spray, you say no, and they let you know they are BLEEDING FROM THE HEAD due to pests in the restaurant, you comp them something. Just sayin'. But no. Our extremely rushed and unfriendly server offered no such thing, complained that he was itchy, too, and ran off yet again, eyes darting back and forth like someone on some kind of speed. Yeahhh, not exactly the type of service you'd expect at a nice seafood restaurant.

I was tempted to leave, but we were awfully hungry and the menu DID sound good, so we stayed, mosquitoes notwithstanding. I did end up eating my meal with my Tulane hoodie wrapped firmly around me, and this all would have been alright if the food made up for it. But it definitely fell short of my expectations, considering my standards for seafood were set in New Orleans. That's really all I need to say about that.

It's not to say that the food wasn't GOOD. It was. It just wasn't spectacular. In New Orleans, it would have been considered fair, whereas here on Long Island, it was considered excellent.

We started off with two appetizers, the fried scallop croquettes and the baked clams J.C. My first disappointment was that the baked clams were tiiiiiny. From seafood stores with prepared chopped baked clams, nice family Italian meals, and other lower-end restaurants I've been to on Long Island, I expected baked clams to be at least the size of a small oyster. These were, out of the shell, little bigger than a quarter each. Granted, there were about 10 of them, but I'd rather have 4 giant, juicy ones than 10 tiny, shrunken ones.

The flavor was good -- a white wine formed the base of the liquid steaming off the bottom of the plate, lemon already flavored the clams, and outside had a nice baked layer, and whole clams are always a pleasant surprise. But again, nothing to write home about.

Fried scallop croquettes were the next up. On a zigzag pattern of some type of remoulade-reminiscent sauce their panko-crusted crisp was delightful. The potatoey goodness was also all kinds of good. But the scallop part? I could barely detect it. So great -- there goes $12 for 3 crunchy potato sausages. I mean, they were tasty, but not very complex, imaginative, and certainly not worth what we paid for them.

I still had high hopes for my entree. I'd ordered what they called the Lump Crab Crusted Tilapia, which was served on a bed of saffron rice and topped with a creamy citrus buerre blanc. Sounds awesome, right?

Well, actually, it WAS pretty damn good! The fish was very, very fresh, which you can always taste, firm, perfectly cooked, beautifully mild, and the fillet was a generous, thick piece. The citrus beurre blanc was only slightly tinged with an orange zest-y flavor, but it was overall really nice, especially when accompanied by a forkful of fluffy yellow rice.

However, it wasn't perfect, nor as good as I'd imagined it. Like I said, the food didn't 100% redeem the uncomfortable service (by "rushed," I mean he asked us if we were ready to order 3 times within 7 minutes of sitting down) and the mosquitoes. The downsides to my meal were that
  1. the corn in the saffron rice was oddly off-putting, and, more importantly,
  2. that the tilapia was in fact, NOT encrusted with lump crab meat, thus making the naming of the dish a big fat FAIL.
Yes, there was a layer of crabmeat on top, but it was on top of HALF of the fish; not the entire fillet. This would have been forgivable, were it not for the fact that the layer was made of either completely shredded-beyond-recognition lump crab or, more plausibly, claw meat. It was presented as a soft rendition of your standard Red Lobster crabmeat stuffing, minus the insane amount of breadcrumbs that biscuit-totin' chain adds to their stuffed anything. What a shame.

Boy got the lobster ravioli, which was generously covered in large chunks of lobster in addition to the filled pasta, and in an orangey sauce that looked and -- surprise, surprise! -- tasted like lobster bisque. Creative, eh? Again, they took liberties with naming the dish; it was called a "roasted toamto fennel cream sauce."

That's all fine and everything, too, but Boy was disappointed in a few things:
  1. the pasta was obviously not house-made, which means ...
  2. the ravioli is obviously not as fresh as we're accustomed to.
  3. The loose lobster meat was chunks of claw meat, and
  4. this lobster meat was rather chewier than it should have been.
*Sigh.* This ain't no lobster ravioli topped with red and black caviar, Brennan's Bacco-style.

However, the big winner of the day was Jared's entree, the salmon. This was actually named accurately, going by "Hickory Roasted Wild Salmon." Delightfully charred with a subtly smoky salt edge to the char, and moist but firm, this was actually really delicious. The salmon was mild as salmon goes, and obviously fresh. The pureed sweet pea sauce was more asparagus-y than sweet peas-y, but it provided a nice shock of color against the peachy, rust-browned flesh of the fish. The vegetable base of the dish, consisting of mushrooms, corn, chopped asparagus, fingerling potatoes, and tomatoes, was superb as well, and the entire dish was well put-together from bite to bite.

We didn't stay for dessert or drinks, but instead made our way down to the end of the Nautical Mile, grabbing a very strong drink from extremely amply bosomed bartenders at some trendy spot on the water. This was really nice up until the time a mosquito got caught and squished by my watchband as it was siphoning blood out of my wrist. Ew.

Anyway, although dinner was not as good as I'd hoped, I feel more optimistic about life on the shore, since in reality, I now will be living on the shore. I'm not a middle-of-Long Islander -- I'll be making my home on the water, making a weekend mission out of exploring the haunts of other water-dwellers and making them my own. I'll find new spots with less outrageously priced drinks (seriously -- $24 for 3 mostly-ice drinks??), deeper flavored food, and maybe, just maybe, places that make their own pasta.

And why not? Life's different on the shore. And if all else fails, I'll be back in New Orleans for my wedding anniversary in May.