It was a sunny Sunday, I had access to a car, and I was up at my S.O.'s in West Harlem. Aha, we said, today's the day we'll check out City Island.
Dutifully, we checked the chowhound message boards for info regarding Island eateries; as you can imagine, the reviews were mixed. When we set off on the 30-minute trip, we still weren't sure where to go. Some clamdiggers who worked at the Nautical Museum told us half-heartedly to go to Artie's ("Where locals go because we don't care about the ocean view.") but they perked up when I asked about the Black Whale. "Oh yeah," they said. "That's a good one." Off to City Island blvd. between Hawkins and Fordham.
The eatery was quiet at 4:30 pm. We took a seat in the 1/2-shaded, 1/2-sunny backyard garden and started on the crusty country bread and good olive oil. The friendly waitress steered us toward the seared salmon special, which came in a wasabi-tangy sauce ($17). My S.O. had a lovely slab of tuna encrusted in black sesame seeds, scented with ginger and orange ($16). Both cuts of fish were moist and flavorful, and seasoned with a sure hand. Both meals came with plum tomatoes made juicier through roasting, fresh, creamy/lumpy mashed potatoes, and garlicky spinach. I nursed a superlative tumbler of sangria throughout. Because we'd made pigs of ourselves, we decided against dessert, contenting ourselves with munching ripe strawberries, blueberries and granny smith apples out of my sangria glass ($7). With my S.O.'s 2 bottles of Paulener Heffe-Weizen (so nice on a summer day!), the meal for two came to $60, including tip--but I think it's entirely possible to eat very well here for around $20/person.
What a delightful experience! We managed to avoid the City Island crowds everyone's always yammering on about, and got off the island just as the Crab and Lobster crowds started arriving.
I wouldn't consider the Black Whale a destination restaurant on its own, but if you a) want to get out of Manhattan for a few hours and b) want seafood not of the fried variety and c)want to stroll through City Island (no public spaces really, alas, but a cool museum and cemetary to explore)...you could do worse than to spend a happy hour in the fresh air eating yourself silly--then strolling through the adjacent antique stores and galleries.