As more and more restaurants get serious about only using sustainable fish (remember when Arctic Char was trendy? Not anymore!), previously unappreciated small bait, like Anchovies, Sardines, Whiting and Mackerel, are finally getting their time to shine. And we’re not just talking about the canned stuff, unappealingly marinated and strewn on top of pizzas. The marine and freshwater dwellers are appearing on menus in a number of forms, prized by French, Italian, Spanish and American chefs alike for their strong, meaty flavor and edible, soft bones. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re low in mercury and rich in nutrients, like calcium, iron and heart-healthy omega 3’s, and (since they’re proliferate spawners) their populations recover quickly when depleted, making them an especially eco-friendly choice for concerned diners.
So where should you go fishing, so to speak, for small bait? Since it’s long been a staple of Mediterranean cuisine, El Colmado, Seamus Mullen’s hopping tapas spot in the newly installed Gotham West Market, is a great place to start. You’ll find seafaring snacks, like Montado Matrimonio — black and white anchovies on toast topped with eggplant jam and goat cheese — as well as Chanquetes Fritos; crispy whiting fried in olive oil, meant for dipping in saffron aioli.
If you’d just as soon stick with Spanish fare, you can probably guess what they’re serving at 100 Sardines, George Mendes’ new stand at Madison Square Eats. The Aldea chef is currently dishing out Portuguese specialties, like an unctuous Sardine Toast, made with preserved and fresh sardines, garlic aioli, pickled cucumbers, cilantro, parsley and lemon, served over charcoal-grilled, Portuguese broa bread made with rye and corn flours.
Slippery, silvery sardines are transformed into a standout Crudo at the hot, Venetian restaurant, All’onda, where Chris Jaeckle arranges fat diamonds of fish on a slab of slate, paired with pickled pearl onions, pine nuts, and fennel. And if you’re feeling French, check out Buttermilk Channel’s new Brooklyn sibling, French Louie, which offers two awesome starters — meaty, smoked Sardines served with rye toasts and a briny, dulse-flecked compound butter, and Anchovy Frites, accented with crispy lemon and creamy aioli.
Anchovies are definitely experiencing a renaissance in Brooklyn, if the quirky Smorgasburg vendor, Bon Chovie, is any indication, because they reliably (and unexpectedly!) draw some of the longest lines. What’s all the fuss about? Cardboard boats of expertly fried, salty and snappy little fish, which can (and should) be ordered “Jersey Style,” with the heads and tails still attached. And while anchovies have yet to make the menu, don’t expect to find anything so pedestrian as tuna or salmon at the attractive and inventive new Bushwick eatery, 1 Knickerbocker. They’re currently serving a particularly delicious Grilled Mackerel dish, accompanied by hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, raisin caper sauce, and Yukon gold puree.
So drop whatever preconceived notions you may have about small bait, such as creepy, curled anchovies and oily, tinned sardines. Because (in the underwater world at least), bigger doesn’t always mean better!
600 11th Ave., btwn. 44th and 45th Sts.
1 25th St., btwn. 5th Ave and Broadway
22 E 13th St., btwn. 5th Ave and University Pl.
320 Atlantic Ave., btwn. Hoyt and Smith Sts.
27 N 6th St., btwn. Wythe and Kent Aves.
1 Knickerbocker Ave., btwn. Johnson Ave and Ingraham St.