New Yorkers love their lobster rolls. Summer is all about taking trips out to the Hamptons for the island’s best with Montauk regulars fighting over Lunch or Cyril’s as the best in the East. In Manhattan, the fight continues for those who need their fix during the weekdays. I have raved about Pearl Oyster Bar in the West Village serving the best lobster roll in town. And I am now coming forward to retract that statement. Former Pearl Oyster Bar owner, Mary Redding, opened Mary’s Fish Camp a few years ago, after a falling out of sorts with Pearl. She took what she learned at the West Village hot spot and created something even better a few blocks away.
How did I decided that Mary’s is the best? I ate one after the other. And it’s no contest, sorry Pearl.
Mary’s Fish Camp mimics the feel of a rustic, fish shack off the coast. The simple decor and light blue walls make the space bright and inviting. The restaurant has only 8 tables and limited bar seating, making it fairly obvious that you need to come at the right moment to avoid a long wait.
My sister, Amanda, and I waltzed into Mary’s shortly after 6pm, when dinner service begins. A few tables were already occupied with individuals slurping on oysters and drinking wine out of glass cups. We sat right near the back window, putting the red checkered napkins on our laps and noting the oyster crackers placed on top of the menus, which is an identical set up to Pearl.
In addition to the regular menu, a colorful chalkboard on the wall lists the daily oyster selection, all from Massachusetts, wine by the glass and daily specials. There’s nothing better then oysters in the summer and it was a day to treat Amanda to something fun. The staff is extremely knowledgeable about the variety of raw seafood served at Mary’s, explaining the differences in flavor and size of the oysters. You can select any number and combination of oysters and little neck clams. We decided to try 2 different varieties of oysters, along with the little neck clams.
Shaved horseradish appears on the raw platter, along with the usual variety of cocktail sauce, vinegar-onions, and lemon. We began with the little neck clams, adding a bit of each topping to the shell. The clams are meaty and sweet, perfectly cleaned and easy to slurp in one swift bite. We moved to the beach point oysters next, which happened to be my favorite of the mix. These are a bit juicer, slightly creamy and briny, which are similar qualities to that of my beloved West Coast oysters. Amanda’s favorite was the Moon Shoal are a little less briny, having a really meaty, bright and sweet flavor. Oysters and Clams are the first way to start the beginning of the meal.
Next, we turned to the Hamachi Crudo.
At first the light hamachi is sweet and refreshing, especially from the citrus, lemon zest and diced cucumber. Quickly and quietly the red chili builds, leaving a burning sensation on the tongue that borders on unbearable. It masks the refreshing and light flavor of the hamachi with extreme heat that could have easily been toned down in the kitchen. The description on the menu is deceiving, as we reached for oyster crackers for refuge from the heat. Amanda is generally better with spice, but I happened to last a bit longer taking a few extra bites as the pile of red chili peppers built up on the left side of the plate. If you can handle the heat, you may enjoy this dish, but I think the heavy handedness with spice compromises the integrity of an otherwise beautiful and delicate piece of fish.
Now, it was time for the entire purpose of our visit: the Lobster Roll. The beautiful, glistening, lobster roll.
Commonnn. This roll is the epitome of perfection. The gigantic pieces of lobster are kept relatively whole, making it a bit difficult to evenly cut this beauty into two. My fingers were coated with mayonnaise as my mouth salivated, begging me to take a bite. The roll was over flowing to the point where Amanda and I each found a big piece of tail meat sitting on our plates for later. With one bite, I smiled at Amanda in fear because we both didn’t want this to end, and we knew it would have to eventually. The potato bun was doused in butter then toasted making the both the inside and outside crisp, sweet and heavenly. The mixture inside is mayonnaise heavy, but just enough so that it doesn’t cross the line into overwhelming. The big, bright pink pieces of lobster meat has a seductive creaminess and sweetness. It’s just divine, making me wonder if it’s socially acceptable to eat one of these every single day, if I could afford it. Just everything about Mary’s lobster roll is pure perfection and it’s hard to fully describe the incredible nature of this dish.
The crisp fries on the side play second fiddle to the lobster roll. We hardly touched our fries, which I generously covered in malt vinegar because we wanted the sweet and buttery taste of lobster to linger on our tongues as long as possible. We licked our fingers clean, and our plates clean, leaving the generous pile of fries to grow cold and feel inferior.
Mary, you win. You win times one-thousand. I want to shout my love for your creation from the rooftops. While Pearl might have a slightly nicer environment and bigger crowds, Mary makes up for in the quality of food and warmth of service. Pearl rushes you in and out, Mary’s wonders why you asked for your check so quickly and explains that you can substitute the never-ending fries for a side salad and of course, a small pile of fries. I don’t know why the word about Mary’s hasn’t spread. I’m happy to share, but I also don’t want the line to grow any longer then it already is at prime hours. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself. Grab your best lobster roll loving bud around 6 o’clock, head to Mary’s then to Pearls. Then we’ll chat.
Mary’s Fish Camp – 64 Charles Street – New York, NY
Mary’s Fish Camp
Location: West Village, NY
Type: Seafood, American (Traditional)
Perfect For: Quality Seafood, Impressing Foodies, Casual Meal
Reservations: Not Available
Favorite Dishes: Lobster Roll, Oysters