It’s always a little unfair to judge a restaurant based on its first week out the gate — kinks still have to be worked out; the kitchen may not have found its rhythm yet.
Judging from a visit to Cowgirl Sea-Horse just days after it opened, it’s a place well worth checking out. If things are only expected to get better after the first week, well, let’s just say they’re already pretty darn satisfying.
This new seafood outpost of the popular Cowgirl in the West Village has the same Southwestern flavor and Steel Magnolia bartenders that the original restaurant does. But it offers slightly different fare from the chicken-fried steaks and smoked barbecue ribs that have been mainstay of Cowgirl for decades.
On the menu are $12 to $14 seafood gumbos, fish tacos and shrimp cornettas (crispy cones filled with shrimp). Like Cowgirl, it does a good job at what it does — uncomplicated comfort food. One thread links the two restaurants: there’s an awful lot of fried in both places.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.
Before all that fried, there is first the issue of getting there.
Tucked away on a little street under the armpit of the Brooklyn Bridge, the place is technically part of the tourist-infested South Street Seaport but, thankfully, is quite a bit further from the camera-toting action.
Considering what you’re likely to consume at Sea-Horse, trust me, the long walk from the Subway will do you good.
We had an inauspicious start at the restaurant — while the bar was packed with a rowdy crowd mid-afternoon on a summer Friday, only one table was occupied.
Even in the face of a large dining room filled with empty tables, the hostess initially insisted that she could only seat our party when everyone had arrived. Thankfully, she was very quickly persuaded that this was nonsense.
For appetizers, the “Rattlesnake bites” sounded enticing. And these jalapenos stuffed with shrimp and wrapped in bacon were as good as they sounded on paper.
The plump jalapenos were firm and stuffed to the brim with shrimp–plenty of meat there. And there was enough char on the bacon to give it a smoky crustiness that was just close enough to the edge of burnt.
Next, having heard so much about the restaurant’s po’boys ($13.95), sampling one was a must.
The menu offers three kinds: shrimp, fried oysters and white fish. Our waiter nudged us toward the oysters. And the portion was generous, to say the least — each half of the sandwich could have been its own massive sandwich.
The oysters were perfectly fried and the bread was not too soft, not too crusty. The only weak spot of the dish was the corn, which had the mouthfeel of having recently been in the fridge for quite some time.
The truly memorable lunch dish, however, was the $13.95 white fish reuben sandwich.
Now, as good as everything was up to this point, I had been on the fence about ever returning to this relatively inconvenient spot until my first bite of this sandwich.
The fish was both fresh and plentiful — think double-decker slabs. And the combination of grilled fish, gooey melted swiss, sauerkraut and a thousand-acre dressing that’s akin to thousand island was brilliant.
In an instant, I began envisioning myself eating this every day. (Hey, it’s fish — so it’s healthy, right?)
And if our arteries hadn’t taken enough of a beating, there were the buttermilk-battered onion rings, which were tender, crispy and juicy.
Perfectly executed and worth the heartburn.
We had decided we could not eat another bite but would take a recreational gander at the dessert menu.
This was unfortunate — once we spotted the $7.95 “baked potato” (pictured high above) there was no turning back.
As if scoops of vanilla ice-cream dusted with cocoa powder to resemble a potato, topped with whipped cream, slabs of lime-sugar butter and chopped pecans dyed green to resemble scallions weren’t enough, the “potato” came swimming in a moat of hot fudge.
In a way, the potato, described as the restaurant’s “signature dessert,” sums up the essence of Sea-Horse.
It’s big, slightly over-the-top, entertaining and generally inexpensive. All of which are not bad qualities in a restaurant these days.
Cowgirl Sea-Horse, 259 Front Street, New York, NY, 212.608.7873