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Crave Ceviche Bar

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946 Second Ave., near 50th St.
(212) 355-6565
Dinner: Sun.-Wed., 5:30-10 p.m.,
Thu.-Sat., 5:30-midnight.

CUISINE Creative ceviche
VIBE Lively neighborhood haunt
OCCASION Solo flight, casual date
DON’T-MISS DISH Spicy yellowfin tuna; Kona kampachi
PRICES $8-$25
RESERVATIONS No reservations accepted

There are those few precious restaurants you contemplate keeping to
yourself. It is a selfish act, though not an unreasonable one, as a way
to safeguard tiny haunts harboring gutsy chefs and even gutsier flavors.

Crave Ceviche Bar is one of those rare finds in a part of town
better known for its happy hours and expense-account dinners.
Candlelight dances about the beachy nook, marked with white paneling,
wood floors and exposed brick walls.

Scribbled on a blackboard are not daily specials, but the names of
hopeful diners anxious for one of 21 seats. This is the first obstacle.
The second is the waiting area, or more precisely, the lack of one. At
present, the sidewalk of Second Ave. serves as a makeshift assembly
point for Crave-determined diners.

Chef Todd Mitgang (formerly of Kittichai) devotes his undivided
attention to ceviche. While this dish tends to lean on its Peruvian and
Ecuadoran roots (lemon or lime juice marinades), the menu is unbound to
any tradition or country. Instead, Mitgang wanders freely about the
globe, drawing inspiration from Asia, Spain and Latin and South America. He marinates everything from salmon to filet mignon in anything from aged sherry vinegar to Worcestershire sauce.

Launch into the spicy yellowfin tuna. What I had dismissed as an
overplayed dish is thrillingly reimagined: Velvety mounds of tuna,
punched up by threads of toasted nori, arrive on a bed of yucca.

Petals of kona kampachi are hit with a cool blast of yogurt and
mint, rounded out with curry-dusted chickpeas. Even a “traditional
shrimp ceviche” is blissfully complicated by an interplay of
plancha-charred corn, hearts of palm and the salty crunch of
chili-spiced popcorn.

Some dishes inevitably overreach. One misstep came at the expense of
a beautiful arctic char that would have been better paired with a glass
of Champagne than adrift in a sea of it – cloying strawberries bobbing
amid the bubbles. A riff on an Israeli salad, consisting of diced
cucumbers, tomatoes and tahini sauce, overpowered delicate bits of
yellowtail. And tender strands of filet mignon caved under an
overwhelming dollop of chimichurri aioli, pickles and manchego cheese.

Petals of kona kampachi are hit with a cool blast of yogurt and
mint, rounded out with curry-dusted chickpeas. Even a "traditional
shrimp ceviche" is blissfully complicated by an interplay of
plancha-charred corn, hearts of palm and the salty crunch of
chili-spiced popcorn.

Some dishes inevitably overreach. One misstep came at the expense of
a beautiful arctic char that would have been better paired with a glass
of Champagne than adrift in a sea of it – cloying strawberries bobbing
amid the bubbles. A riff on an Israeli salad, consisting of diced
cucumbers, tomatoes and tahini sauce, overpowered delicate bits of
yellowtail. And tender strands of filet mignon caved under an
overwhelming dollop of chimichurri aioli, pickles and manchego cheese.

Still, the successes far outweigh the failures: Citrusy ringlets of
calamari are strewn with Shanghai shoots, chorizo teases out the
succulence of wild king salmon, and nuggets of rock shrimp are lifted
by a lemony tempura batter.

How many ways can you ceviche a fish? Todd Mitgang has conceived
quite a few. Crave heralds both a new breed of chef and an exciting
genre in what remains relatively uncharted territory.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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