Off the Hook
A fish house in Irvington does New England proud.
Photos by Cathy Pinsky
Day Boat Café makes the most of its waterside location. You won’t see, hear, or smell the water while in the restaurant, but it is the focus of the décor and the menu. High above the whitewashed walls, giant oars crisscross their way along the vaulted ceiling, creating the feeling you’re in an Ivy League college sculling team’s boathouse—or maybe a Ralph Lauren ad. This is an idealized version of what a New England fish house might be. Just sitting there is bound to make one feel beautifully wind-blown and sun-kissed. (And sadly, a little hoarse after a crowded Saturday night of shouting over the din.)
The menu has all the fish-house favorites and then some. Oysters (raw and cooked); chowders (three to choose from!); lobster every which way (roll, potpie, steamed); a dozen seafood-based entrées; and, yes, fried chicken and steak. And let’s get this out of the way right now: the prices are not outrageous. Perhaps not a bona fide bargain, but given the premium real estate (in the space the restaurant One last occupied), the décor, and the other restaurants in the area, we don’t think a menu with entrées ranging from $14 to $25 is half bad.
We were mostly happy with what we got for our money, although there were a couple of clunkers. None of them came in the first courses. Any raw bar that takes the time and effort to carry three selections each from East and West Coast waters will clearly go to the effort of storing and shucking them properly. Just days after returning from Portland and eating our fill of Kumamotos and Hama Hamas, we were pleased that they were just as plump and sweet at Day Boat. Little Rhode Island Beausoleils were also delicate and sweet. Cooked oysters were equally good: the big, juicy meat was covered with a thin, crisp crust and served with cool, creamy tartar sauce.
Beware the generous bowls of chowder—nearly big enough to make a meal and certainly tasty enough. Rust-colored lobster-and-corn chowder was more like bisque; it was rich and deeply flavorful with a sweet corn undertone and plenty of chunks of lobster meat. An equally big and hearty bowl of classic New England clam chowder was rich and very thick with lots of clam and potato. It was hard to stop eating either.
PEI mussels are served with a choice of mustard cream, beer, or white-wine broth; we chose the latter. Fresh, briny, and tender mussels were perfectly cooked, and the broth surprisingly well balanced—“surprisingly” because there were big chunks of smashed, undercooked garlic that somehow did not impart its raw flavor.
Day Boat Café’s fish ‘n’ chips features light, crisp, golden batter-fried cod, which has a coating that melts in your mouth.
Smoked salmon served over a johnnycake (a Rhode Island cornmeal pancake) had a lovely contrast of flavors and textures. We loved the interplay between the johnnycakes (sweeter and thicker than is traditional), the salty fish, and the tangy, cool crème fraîche.
But what the culinary lords giveth, they taketh away. There was no balance in two entrées we sampled. Linguine with white clam sauce tasted only of uncooked wine. When the waitress saw our plate was barely touched, she asked if there was a problem—and deducted the price of the dish from our check. On another visit, the server didn’t notice that we left most of the striped bass, the flavor of which was obliterated by the thick slathering of pesto. And while we like our vegetables crisp, we prefer that they do more than glance at the heat.
But there are many happier things to talk about, and nothing makes us happier than a lobster roll done right. Day Boat Café does a fine job: a top-split bun, toasted and buttered (three points for the bun) filled with big chunks (four points) of sweet lobster meat tossed with just a whisper of mayo (another three points). Bo Derek, move over: the lobster roll is our “10.”
The fried fish in Day Boat’s fish ‘n’ chips was a light, crisp, golden batter-fried cod that had a coating that seemed to just melt in our mouths (without a trace of oil). The fries, however, were pedestrian. Then again, a plate with perfectly seared, tender jumbo scallops shared room with crisp grilled asparagus and creamy, über-rich mashed potatoes. Scallops were similiarly moist and tender in a robust seafood stew. The lovely jumble of shrimp, mussels, clams, salmon, and lobster came together in a rich and heady tomato-based broth.
Go ahead, finish your meal with an enormous ice cream sandwich of double-chocolate-chip cookies and vanilla ice cream. It’s unlikely you can eat the whole thing yourself, so share with at least one—or even three others. And while the apple cobbler and coconut cake weren’t anything special, we loved the warm brioche bread pudding with caramel sauce, which tasted every bit as New England as dessert at this self-styled fish house should.
Day Boat Café ★★★
1 Bridge St, Irvington
Hours: Lunch, Mon to Fri 12 pm–3 pm; dinner, Mon to Wed 5 pm–9:30 pm, Thurs 5 pm–10 pm, Fri and Sat 5–10:30 pm, Sun 1 pm–8 pm.
Appetizers: $8-$12; entrées: $14-$25; desserts: $8
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good