Classy Comfort

I’m one of those strange people who loves to eat fish but hates seafood. It doesn’t make sense, right? Often, when explaining my preferences, I say that most freshwater creatures are OK, but I’m not interested in slimy ocean swimmers.

But then there’s my beloved salmon. Born in freshwater, it migrates to the sea to mature and returns to freshwaters to spawn before ending up on my plate. Chefs can cook salmon in a variety of ways — baked, grilled, broiled — and I thought I’d had them all, until an evening at Blackbird proved me wrong.

Located at the intersection of West 50th Street and Bryant Avenue, Blackbird serves the ideal fish fry: panko-crusted salmon with French fries and soy dipping sauce. Served in thick, crunchy strips, the fish was moist and tender, free from the grease one might expect from deep-frying. With each initial bite, steamed poured out of the strips, quelled by the tangy sauce.

The fries were also crispy and greaseless, cut in thick squares with hints of potato skin. I dunked both items in the buttery soy sauce and occasionally switched to catsup or plain nibbles. Halfway through my meal, it dawned on me that I hadn’t picked up my fork.

“We like the kitsch factor of fish sticks,” explained Gail Mollner, co-owner of the restaurant with her husband Chris Stevens. “That’s what Mom busted out when she was really busy. … It’s just kind of remembering that shape and remembering that that was a meal that she would frequently make.”

Blackbird specializes in upscale comfort food — classic, yet classy dishes that evoke childhood memories and warm feelings. Recently, Mollner had a customer remark that he hadn’t eaten eggs like hers since his mother died.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” said
Mollner. “Food doesn’t have to be so serious. … Just relax and eat it.”

Blackbird has had a steady stream of customers — many of who live close by — since its opening in July. Mollner and Stevens bought the former Caribou Coffee shop after meeting its owners at a friend’s wedding.

“It’s just kind of incredible to see, after only being open these few months, we have a steady, regular clientele,” Mollner said. “It’s kind of part of their day just coming here.”

With a comfortable atmosphere and inventive dishes for picky seafood haters like myself, Blackbird serves up memories and helps create them, too.

Contact Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.

815 W. 50th St.