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Sea Salt

You haven’t truly eaten at Sea Salt until you’ve shopped for your

dinner in the fish market tucked into the back corner of this East
Village nook. There lies the best of what chef Orhan Yegen has to offer – an icy display of seafaring wares. To Yegen, these aren’t just fish: This is his religion.

“I’m
the only one who truly understands them,” he declares matter-of-factly
over the phone. “I taste and tune the fish. That’s my talent.”

He
designed much of the ­restaurant himself, painting the broad, creamy
stripes that wrap themselves around the space, accented with butcher
block tables and black and white photos – a bit Miami Beach meets Mediterranean seascape. Tables spill onto a span of Second Ave., brimming with students and artsy types.

An
impossibly outspoken and restless nomad, Yegen has rambled through some
14 restaurants in the last 22 years. He has demonstrated his skills at
Beyoglu, and currently at Sip Sak, two restaurants celebrated for their
Turkish cuisine. His newest pursuit moves the spotlight from ethnic
staples to seafood.

The back fish market reveals a shimmering medley of seafood lounging on cascades of ice.

Dive
right into the fresh selection of “small school” fish listed among the
appetizers. Portuguese sardines, barely fried, arrive plump and moist
with a crisp casing. Grassy bursts of dill ably temper the brininess of
salt-cooked anchovies.

But Yegen’s popular meze (­Turkish tapas),
ravished by upper East Siders at Beyoglu, lost their spunk en route to
the East Village. In place of hummus and other creamy dips emerges a
trio of “spreads”: a clumpy fava bean mash, uneventful yogurt with
spinach, and a muddy taramosalata (carp roe dip).

Even more
disheartening were the fish cakes – fish sticks consisting mostly of
potato and kasseri cheese with scarce traces of red snapper.

Stick
to the namesake’s specialty – the salt-encrusted whole fish is Yegen’s
pride and joy. When it’s ordered, he hurries out with an artful,
salt-sculptured fish, setting it ablaze with cognac – the tableside
performance unearths a buttery and pristinely sweet flesh.

And though he takes no credit for the lamb chops, they materialize juicy and bone-suckingly delectable.

Other
entrees fell short. Hefty scallops were lost in a pool of cheese,
tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms. Handmade fettuccine was buried under a
sludge of Alfredo sauce, which also knocked the life out of lobster,
clams and shrimp strewn over the top.

Though slightly erratic, Sea Salt’s kitchen tenders some deliciously simple seafood.

As for the check – it arrives in a sardine can, proving Yegen still has a sense of humor after all these years.

But Yegen’s popular meze (­Turkish tapas), ravished by upper East
Siders at Beyoglu, lost their spunk en route to the East Village. In
place of hummus and other creamy dips emerges a trio of “spreads”: a
clumpy fava bean mash, uneventful yogurt with spinach, and a muddy
taramosalata (carp roe dip).

Even more disheartening were the fish cakes – fish sticks consisting
mostly of potato and kasseri cheese with scarce traces of red snapper.

Stick to the namesake’s specialty – the salt-encrusted whole fish is
Yegen’s pride and joy. When it’s ordered, he hurries out with an
artful, salt-sculptured fish, setting it ablaze with cognac – the
tableside performance unearths a buttery and pristinely sweet flesh.

And though he takes no credit for the lamb chops, they materialize juicy and bone-suckingly delectable.

Other entrees fell short. Hefty scallops were lost in a pool of
cheese, tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms. Handmade fettuccine was buried
under a sludge of Alfredo sauce, which also knocked the life out of
lobster, clams and shrimp strewn over the top.

Though slightly erratic, Sea Salt’s kitchen tenders some deliciously simple seafood.

As for the check – it arrives in a sardine can, proving Yegen still has a sense of humor after all these years.

Address: 99 Second Ave., nr. 5th St.
Phone: (212)979-5400
Cuisine: Turkish seafood
Vibe: Summery East Village nook
Occasion: Relaxing night out
Hours: Dinner, Mon-Sun, 5:00pm-2:00am.  Serving Brunch and Lunch post-Labor Day
Don’t Miss Dish: Request the salt-encrusted whole fish (not listed on the menu)
Drink Specialty: Turkish white wines by the glass & bottle
Price: Appetizers, $5-$14.50; Entrees, $14.50-$29.50; Desserts, $8.
Reservations: Reservations accepted, walk-ins appropriate

Address: 99 Second Ave., nr. 5th St.
Phone: (212)979-5400
Cuisine: Turkish seafood
Vibe: Summery East Village nook
Occasion: Relaxing night out
Hours: Dinner, Mon-Sun, 5:00pm-2:00am.  Serving Brunch and Lunch post-Labor Day
Don’t Miss Dish: Request the salt-encrusted whole fish (not listed on the menu)
Drink Specialty: Turkish white wines by the glass & bottle
Price: Appetizers, $5-$14.50; Entrees, $14.50-$29.50; Desserts, $8.
Reservations: Reservations accepted, walk-ins appropriate.

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