We promised to make a follow-up visit to Catch, and we’re glad we did. Because at Catch, less turns out to be more, more or less.
THE GOOD: Though the wonderful garlic-aggressive Mascarpone that accompanied the bread last visit went AWOL, the newly presented Tapenade and Humus, though tamer, were worthy replacements. But more importantly — we forgot to mention it last time — the bread itself is superb. It rivals some of the better Parisian baguettes in texture and taste, the outer crust subtly challenging the teeth until it gives way to a softer, slightly chewy interior. Merci beaucoup.
For the appetizer, we shared the much touted Angry Shrimp And Lobster. The resulting report is a ‘He said/She said.’ ‘He’ is one of those dietary daredevils who sneers in defiance at a Ghost Chili even when it brings tears to his eyes. ‘She’, on the other hand, has a more sensitive palate, and declared the Angry appetizer too fiercely fiery and sorely in need of Anger Management. The sauce, she said, once again obliterated the taste of the fish. If you tilt toward the higher end of the Scoville Scale, as I do, you’ll enjoy the dish. If not . . .
After our last visit, we were underwhelmed by the over sauced Sea Bass and Scallops. So this time, we ordered the Sea Bass straight up (with a lemon caper sauce on the side) and the Greek Dorade ‘whole fish’ grilled. If the two other whole fish on the chalk board are up to the Dorade, we imagine that even the most discriminating sea food lover would take pleasure. The skin of the Dorade was done perfectly with just enough charcoal taste adhering to the crisp the skin to titillate, while sparing the inner flesh entirely and leaving it as moist and flavorful as it should be. If you add just a touch of the Lemon Caper sauce (or whatever sauce you please) Neptune himself would give the dish his blessing. The accompanying crispy potatoes were perfectly salted and just crisp enough wake the senses. For the gourmand (I wear the label proudly) they could rival a traditional Mac and Cheese as comfort food.
With all that said, we still suggest you avoid the ‘Prepared Catch’ on the menu. Our bet is that all the ‘preparations’ will overwhelm the fish. But if that’s your idea of ‘good’ than do go for it. For us, less preparation at Catch proved to be more. Much more.
Also under THE GOOD you’ll find the Crispy Phylo dessert. This dessert is a unique take on a pedestrian Strawberry Shortcake that ennobles the confection. Instead of Angel Food cake to brace the whipped cream and berries, Catch comes up with crispy rectangles of fried phyllo dough that provide a creatively flavorful textural contrast.
THE BAD: Alas! We’ve purchased and home-grilled fresh Chilean Sea Bass from Citarella in NYC (when it was available)from Metropolitan Seafood in Lebanon New Jersey, and once or twice from Delicious Orchards in Colts Neck. We’ve also been treated to portions of CSB at Le Bernardin, and in several high end eateries in Paris, so we know from what we speak. Sadly, the lifeless looking, grayish slab of grilled fish on the plate tasted like it must have made a pit stop at the Mrs. Paul factory on the way to our table. Once again, it was relatively tasteless and a textural disaster. Catch catches its fish from a well-reputed purveyor in Philadelphia who assures them that the Sea Bass is fresh. To us, it tasted as if it had been previously frozen to frostbite.
THE UGLY: The only minor details bordering on THE UGLY suggest that we offer up a ‘Caveat Diner/Emptor’ and a suggestion. If you ask for water at the beginning of your meal, you must choose your words with care. If you don’t want to pay for an overpriced bottle of non-bubbly H2O, specify that you want ‘Ice Water’. If you ask for flat water or plain water, out comes the bottled stuff. By way of suggestion to Catch, the fluorescent light over the raw bar is way too bright and distracts from the otherwise pleasant ambiance; if you look at the light for more than a millisecond, when you look away, your field of vision will be cursed with one of those moving purple splotches for some time.
The service and servers, as before, were superb. Polite without saccharine. Present without hovering. Informative without pedantry. And because Catch proves that less is more - more or less - we’ll be returning as regulars much more often than less.