We popped into Ditch Plains last night to try the fare. I’m not exactly sure New York needs another little fried seafood shack à la New England restaurant. There are a few dotted about town (the solipsistic all-about-me part of town, from around Houston to around 23rd street, around 1st Ave to around 10th) and most of them do a decent job. But the Landmarc crew owns this one and I love their work, so it seemed apropos to check it out.
My first reaction was to the décor. Not that I would call Pearl, Mary’s, Mermaid, BLT, or Black Pearl theme places, but they have all played up the stereotypical New England shore theme in their styling. Ditch Plains feels like NYC; there is glass and steel, the lights are dimmed to tawny, the music is rock and set to the notch your cool uncle would dig but that would make your dad make you repeat things over. There is a cool bar big enough to support a wait but not of the size to support a scene. As far as flourish goes, there are a couple of anvils scattered around. I don’t know what they have to do with the Village, surfing or seafood, but who doesn’t get happy when they see an anvil?
The menu is printed on gray paper and presented in roughly eight strips, about six inches high and two inches wide, unified in their upper-left corners by a small, clasp binder ring. There are seldom more than about five items per page making this paint-chip set-up easy to look at things like which salad you want (served all day), which sandwich you will have (served all day), or how you would like your omelet (served all day) but it took me about four times through the cycle to remember enough of the things I saw on the way through to plan a meal. I don’t suspect this is a big deal, though, for two reasons: one, I could have unbound them and laid them next to each other, and two, Ditch Plains strikes me as the kind of place that if you like it you will love it and would become a regular in a short time if you were so inclined, so within a couple of visits you would have a pretty standard order. The wine list is set up in the same way as the menu. Clear, concise and well chosen for the food, it continues that most important Landmarc restaurant tradition of pricing that encourages one to enjoy wine as a contributing part of the meal rather than a luxury item.
As far as service goes, it was proficient and exceedingly fast. The restaurant’s biggest styling feat may be its beach bar-like staffing. Everyone I came in contact with was fairly good looking, young, and pretty relaxed, in t-shirts, bringing the separate parts of our order as they became ready, which in some cases was remarkably fast.
For food, I sampled four things:
Chicken liver mousse (served all day): a solid example. If you like chicken liver mousse you will like this one. It is presented in a ramekin, with a fat cap on top and grilled rounds of a Sullivan Street baguette. There was less toast than the thin applications we were putting on merited, causing some frustration to my fellow diners (Bubby, Downstairs, Sequana, and Babbopappa) when we ran out of bread with a little less than half the paté left. For me it was great because the dish came out cold and they all ate it so voraciously that, were it not for the wait for a little more toast, it would have disappeared before it shook its chill off and started tasting.
Lobster Roll (served all day): meets the requirements of a lobster roll; chunky lobster meat and something green, bound in a fat, on a grilled hot dog bun. In this permutation, the amount of meat is about that of a cull (a one claw lobster) as opposed to a full pound-and-a-quarter's worth of meat, but it sells for two thirds the price of its closest corrival at Pearl so the portion seems to make fair fiscal sense. The green thing is both celery and tarragon. Tarragon is a cruel mistress; depending on your tastes a light amount can coax the sweetness from the lobster meat, while too much overpowers it, making it what may as well be a cold licorice rice pudding. For me, with the chardonnay we were drinking, it was safely in the middle of these extremes but closing in on the heavy side. The fat was mayo, and the bun was a potato bun grilled over fire rather than on the flat top, the danger here being that the smallest scorch on the sweeter potato roll will overpower all the nuance of this dish.
Mac and cheese (served all day): served bubbling hot in a crock, it is solid, creamy, rich and tangy. I added salt, and Downstairs missed a bread crumb topping of some kind. It definitely plays on the lighter side of the mac and cheese world, I will have it as is on hangover mornings and add hot sauce next time I order in the evening.
Mixed greens salad (Served all day): a simple mix of red and green oak lettuces dressed with a shallot, sherry vinegar dressing, it may have been the best dish of the evening. It had a solid balance of flavors, just as simple and light as it should be.
My last thought on the first night of Ditch Plains is that it is comfortable. I am aware they did a soft open (I believe they did so with discounted checks during this period, which is a very smart practice in my opinion. If you aren’t up to your full potential why should we pay at its level?) but this place felt strangely untroubled for a first night. I believe they intend to serve food till 2am, which may make it a great place to go have a nice quiet late night something. Of course I’ll do my best to find out.