Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Johnny’s on the Spot – New York City entry #1

Choosing a first meal in a great culinary metropolis is no easy task. Of course, one might simply begin eating, and let things work themselves out. But if one wished to be more deliberative should one choose Per Se, Rao’s, Four Seasons, Second Avenue Deli, or JoJo (just down the block from my apartment, and, thus, my personal neighborhood bistro)? All would have been worthy choices. Yet, I selected another restaurant entirely, a restaurant that would demonstrate my commitment to “eating the boroughs.”

I selected Johnny’s Reef Restaurant at the tip of City Island – a little goiter sticking out into Long Island Sound from Pelham Park. City Island was originally New York’s shipbuilding center, but that industry, and the Scandinavians who worked in those boatyards have long departed, leaving a string of yacht clubs and seafood restaurants (many Italian). Admittedly my choice was encouraged by the absolutely splendid weather on Labor Day weekend – weather that I found calming, but a New York friend of mine explained made her anxious: 9/11 was such a day. Not only madeleines but climate can take us back.

Johnny’s is an unprepossessing restaurant that reminds New Yorkers of Nathans, with stations where one picks up and pays for different courses: a raw bar, fried fish, drinks, desserts, etc. I selected a half dozen Littleneck Clams, Shrimp Cocktail, Soft-Shell Crabs with Fries, and Johnny’s Sea Breeze, and took my tray out to one of the hundreds of metal tables set up on a concrete slab by the Sound.

I confess that the experience was superior to the food: not just nature’s handiwork, but the congregation of New Yorkers. Perhaps if New York becomes touched by hurricane winds, the cross-ethnic harmonies would not sound so sweet, but today the Gods were on our side.

As a culinary event, the crabs were the highpoint. Half-a-dozen soft-shells, properly cooked and battered for $11.00 with well-made fries. The clams ($5.00) were fresh, if not notably tender, but the juices were sea-salty. The shrimp ($8.00) were edging toward rubbery, but they could be smothered in Cocktail Sauce. Jimmy’s Sea Breeze ($4.00) was cold and otherwise what one might expect at that price.

Yet, one can be too critical of a restaurant that is designed to be a people-processor, and a happy one at that. My forty-five minutes by the Sound made the start of my New York year a moment that will only be rarely matched.

Johnny’s Reef Restaurant
2 City Island Avenue
City Island, Bronx, New York
(open March through November, closed Friday – what kind of seafood restaurant would close on Friday?)

No comments: