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The first thing you notice when you arrive outside the Quays is the fantastic view of New York City. In summer, with tables set out for alfresco dining, the scene is stunning. Unfortunately, you can’t see much from inside, because most of the tables aren’t near the small windows.
But the interior is attractive, with a bar on one side divided from the main dining area by draped, semi-sheer fabric that appears to represent a ship’s sails.
Architect Peter Johnston designed the restaurant, which opened in 2004, to recall the inside of a ship, with curved wood and metal ribs on either side of the room; I like it, although it looks more the way I’d imagine the inside of a whale. A ship’s figurehead stands guard over the bar area, which has a TV and a few tables and booths. A casual atmosphere prevails at the Quays, where the average age on a Saturday night appears to be between 25 and 35. Service is good on a weeknight, but one Saturday evening our waitress makes us feel like a burden.
The owner, Irish-born Richard Browne, who also owns a Hoboken bar called the Quiet Woman, describes the menu as primarily American with Irish touches. We begin with crisp, tender fried calamari, served with both marinara sauce and a Thai ginger-lime sauce, and fresh-tasting mussels in a very good spicy marinara sauce. I like the paper-thin seared carpaccio, topped with arugula salad and shaved Parmesan and drizzled with truffle oil. The chicken satay is a little dry, but its accompanying peanut sauce is tasty. The enormous spring roll, made with rock shrimp and crab, is crisp but lacks flavor.
The short ribs braised in Guinness are meltingly tender and absolutely scrumptious. A lamb shank served with gummy pumpkin-sage spaetzle and greasy, oversalted flash-fried spinach is nevertheless tender and flavorful. A hanger steak accompanied by battered onion rings, mashed red potatoes, and a brandy-peppercorn sauce is full-flavored but chewy. Chilean sea bass served with Chinese long beans, julienned vegetables, and potatoes is subtly gilded with miso and cooked until glazed outside and moist and pearly inside, its delicate flesh flaking apart at the touch of a fork. Less successful is the breast of chicken rolled with spinach, mozzarella, and prosciutto in mushroom sauce, which is dry and overcooked.
For dessert, order the individual molten chocolate cake or the apple pie with ice cream. The standard crème brûlée is very good. Steer clear of the cherry cheesecake, which is served on a warm plate, and the gelatinous plain cheesecake.
Reviewed in: April 2006