Well, I've gone and done it--made you wait for another fab posting from Camille Cogswell on NYC Fine/Dining. As you will have no doubt noticed not only is it not Tuesday and there was no at all City A Week posting last week. Blame it on my travels. I was off gallivanting in beautiful places, both with offered a bit 'internet insufficiency'. As much as I hate the delay though I have to say, the timing may have worked well. The heat here on the East Coast makes this posting on GRAND BANKS particularly welcome and as refreshing...I'll let Camille take from here...
On a picture-perfect early summer day I sat sipping a cool glass of rose, feeling the breeze on my face and in the gentle sway of the boat I relaxed on. Opening my eyes to the bright sun, I slurped down another oyster. Bringing the New York City skyline back into view, I remembered that it was Tuesday afternoon on the west side of Manhattan.
Living in the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, it's easy for me to become engulfed in that urban bubble, and forget that Manhattan is surrounded by water. For the first year I lived in NYC I hardly had any aquatic interaction, other than crossing a bridge every day from Brooklyn to Manhattan on a train. A progressive, cutthroat city known for food, fashion, architecture, museums, art, music, and so much more, it's important to remember the integral role that New York City's maritime history played in helping shape this unique and diverse city.
Now that summer is finally here, New Yorkers and tourists alike should be using any excuse to be out in the fresh air. And while museums, Central Park, Times Square, and the Empire State Building usually top visitors' NYC to-do lists, some of the most enjoyable parks and activities are by the waterfront. Some that are still easily accessible to visitors whose time is centered in Manhattan are: Governor's Island, Ellis Island, Liberty Island, the free ferry to Staten Island, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Riverside Park, and Hudson River Park.
Now, for its second summer, there is a new attraction at Hudson River Park at Pier 25 in Tribeca: New York City's largest wooden vessel, the Sherman Zwicker, which from midday to midnight serves up refreshing drinks and light seafood in it's newest incarnation, the restaurant Grand Banks.
Before coming to dock on the banks of the Hudson River the Sherman Zwicker lived a full and historic life as a cod fishing vessel in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, making multiple trips a year to South America with the preserved salt cod and returning with an exchange of bulk salt. After more than twenty-five years of this life, Captain George McEvoy rescued it from its gradual demise, sailing it to the shore of Maine, restoring it and turning it into an operational, traveling maritime museum. The Grand Banks Schooner Museum Trust, founded by McEvoy, took care to preserve the Zwicker as an educational vessel for more than 30 years before handing it over to the Maritime Foundation in 2014. And today it's the last original saltbank fishing vessel in existence.
Miles and Alex Pincus, who founded the Atlantic Yachting School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, were entranced by the once commonplace and now non-existent oyster barges that once dotted the coastline of Manhattan in the 1800s. So with help from restaurant veterans Mark Firth and Adrien Gallo they decided to bring about a revival. In collaboration with the Maritime Foundation, the four transformed the Sherman Zwicker into the operational, seasonal oyster bar, Grand Banks.
Two curved bars sit on the deck of the Zwicker. A beautiful wooden bar serves just beverages, an easy-drinking menu with just a few draft beers, light cocktails, refreshing “session cocktails” made with a combination of wine and light spirits, and a carefully curated and simple wine list. At the second, zinc-topped bar, you can dine on whatever fresh oysters arrived in that day, shucked to order by a cook behind the bar and accompanied by their house-made sauces, a ramp mignonette and roasted pepper and citrus cocktail sauce. On offer the day that I visited were Blue Points from Long Island, Harbor Points from Massachusetts, Tavern Islands from Connecticut, and the singular West Coast variety from Washington, Totten Inlet.
A menu of five or six small plates is also available in addition to the oysters at both the zinc bar and at a surprising amount of tables lining both sides of the boat. With the limited kitchen space below deck and obvious heat source restrictions, the menu is raw-bar focused, including a killer scallop ceviche with avocado, habanero, kaffir lime, and mint, and a porgy crudo with rhubarb and tarragon.
The not-raw options include an incredible lobster roll that has been touted by many as the highlight of their menu, which comes with their “new bay” spiced potato chips. There are also clams, steamed then chilled and served in the shell with an herb coulis. And typically one rotating menu item is non-seafood based, which right now is a soft burrata served with Chianti-marinated beets, herbs, and olive tapenade crostini.
Grand Banks is equally enchanting on a sun-drenched afternoon as at night with the city lights providing an irresistible backdrop. They don't take reservations and it's sure to be busy this summer, especially on the weekends, but even if you have to wait a few minutes, the pier where Grand Banks is docked is beautiful with green space and lounge chairs accompanying the waterfront view at the end of the pier. And with mini-golf, tennis courts, and a playground with water-fixtures farther inland, this is not a bad place to spend an afternoon before you embark on your dock-side adventure. Even if you're visiting NYC for just a few days, no one could ever argue against what feels like a coastal vacation escape in the middle of Manhattan. But don't wait until it starts to get chilly, Grand Banks is only open from May to October; during the winter months the owners have plans to kick the New York chill in Florida.
Pier 25 (southern side)
Hudson River Park
Mon – Thurs: 3pm-12am
Fri – Sat: 11am-12am
Small Plates: $11-25