Hot Chef: Todd Mitgang, Crave Fishbar
Todd Mitgang serves seafood for lunch and dinner at Crave Fishbar (945 Second Ave., 646-895-9585).
Courtesy of Crave Fishbar
A horrific crane accident in 2008 shut down Todd Mitgang’s Crave Ceviche Bar in midtown, but the chef rebounded with Crave Fishbar, a nautical-themed eatery (down to the portholes) that recently started serving lunch. Mitgang presents some delightfully satisfying interpretations of fish on the menu, in dishes like fluke tostadas and tuna confit sandwiches, but land-lovers need not fear dropping by for a burger or salad. We asked Mitgang how he rethought his restaurant after the unthinkable occurred.
It’s been almost five years since the crane accident.
Yeah, that was wild. I had worked at a couple of great kitchens and Crave Ceviche Bar was the first restaurant where I was a partner. We were doing great business, we loved the restaurant, it was really a team effort and the crane collapsed and it was just devastating. We were there — I had a couple of guys in the kitchen, I was across the street — [it was] just a wild day. Thankfully, we didn’t lose any of our staff, but there were lives lost. … It could have been so much worse for us. Sure, we lost our business for a little while, but hey, we’re here with a new one.
And you recently started a lunch service. What do you think is the most surprising item on the lunch menu?
I’m not surprised by any of it because it’s very much my style. [Laughs] But I think for somebody who comes in here for the first time they’d probably be surprised to see something like the ramen that we’re running. For dinner we serve it with a piece of glazed fish, but because lunch is a different service and we want to be available to everybody and anybody who’s in the neighborhood, we have a couple of meat options, and so we give that option for glazed pork belly as well.
Do you ever get really sick of fish?
No. [Laughs] That’d be silly, then I should quit what I’m doing. My wife and I just had a night out and we went to a great restaurant and had some raw bar. I love food. It’s truly beyond being a passion of mine for work — I love to eat, I’m always looking for the most delicious bite of food.
Is there any fish you don’t like to eat or cook with?
I don’t think so. I’m bizarre in the sense where I have an appreciation for almost all things food. I may have preferences depending on the day or the preparation but I truly think everything has its place and if you’re going to the right restaurant or tasting food from the right chef and he or she knows how to prepare it the right way, delicious food is delicious food.
Can you give us some tips on buying fish at the store?
I think that first and foremost it’s about relationships. I’ve been working with my same fish vendor since I started my career. There’s trust. Go into your neighborhood fish market. I would prefer to buy fish from a fish market or from a fish counter —there’s somebody working there, it’s not just like a fish display at a supermarket with prepackaged fish — and I think you need to strike up a conversation and talk to these people that are working the counter, that are butchering and filleting the fish. They have more insight into what is fresh from the market or what is eating well or what is possibly seasonal, and I think working on those relationships you need to possibly start to trust that person or you want to trust that person.
What do you mean “eating well”?
There might be some fish that are available all year round because they’re available, they’re easily caught and people want to see them available all year round, so there’s a market for that. [But] some fish might do better in colder waters than warmer waters, so even though they’re available they might not be at their peak. There is a seasonality for seafood.
What fish are you loving right now?
I love merluza right now. It’s very similar to a hake or a cod. It’s caught locally, it’s a whiting of sorts, but it comes to us in a really nice thick filet. I think pan-roasting is a fantastic technique for home cooks. It’s really simple: Start with a pan that is oven-safe, bring some heat to it — it’s as easy as seasoning a fish with salt and pepper or just salt. [Add] a little olive oil in the pan, put it down presentation-side down. It’s tough to give a time if I haven’t seen the size filet, but just keep an eye on it. Don’t touch it. As it starts to brown on the edges, that’s a good indication. You can then turn it over, put it into a 350-degree oven and let it continue roasting. Merluza has a really nice big flake, it’s got good favor for a white fish and, again, it’s caught locally, which is cool.
What are your thoughts on buying and cooking with frozen fish?
It’s tough to have a stance on something like that because what’s good for me and good for the restaurant, I don’t want to frown on anybody’s practice. There are I think plenty of frozen houses that are buying from the right places, that are freezing the right way and that are being sold the right way, so to frown on that is not something that I would do. … I would rather see somebody go to a fresh fish counter or a fresh fish market, but I’d definitely not frown on that. If [that is] the only way somebody could buy fish, I think that’s great. How does it taste? I don’t know. (Laughs)