Fall 2013 (Vol. 1, Online Issues) / Hungry Wednesdays / Online Issues

Your New Favorite Place

amandatien_rustymackerel_f2013_cover

Your New Favorite Place

Aritcle & Photos By Amanda Tien | The Homecoming Issue
The print magazine’s Editor in Chief got permission from the lovely online editor, Amelia Moulis, to take over this week’s Hungry Wednesday post with a review of a local restaurant that will undoubtedly change the way you eat cauliflower, dine in the city, and possibly live your life. Winter 2013 will have a full review of the restaurant, but for now, enjoy an update about a must-try new locale in Washington Heights. Click photos for up-close views of deliciousness at its peak.

 

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I can say few things with absolute certainty. Maybe that’s part of what a Columbia University education is all about–making you doubt what you thought you knew about society, literature, science, the world, life, finding true happiness, etc. But recently, I’ve had the opportunity to discover something that I know to be true: Rusty Mackerel will be your new favorite place. And you can trust me–it’s certainly mine.
 

THE PLACE

Rusty Mackerel is a cozy hotbed of flavor and personality in Washington Heights, an easy ride from campus on the M4 or the 1 train. With brick walls and warm lighting, the atmosphere alone is enough to draw the crowds in but it’s the cuisine that will keep you here for hours. (No, literally. I was there from noon until 3pm, and yes, I was eating the entire time.) Opened by Washington Heights native Chef James “Mac” Moran earlier this year, Rusty Mackerel is a gourmet restaurant with remarkably affordable prices. It caters to the neighborhood, a mixture of small families and artists coming back from late night shows, plays, and galleries downtown. Their menu reflects this with hearty, experimental dinner entrees and playful, bright brunch options. Even the staff is excellent–they’re all locals, and their kind enthusiasm is enough to brighten even the cloudiest of days.
 

THE PEOPLE

Mac, chef and owner, explained his history to me, sharing how he started off at a butcher shop around the corner. He had a stint in construction before a friend told him, “Dude, you should really try culinary school.” Before long, Mac was studying under famous chefs and traveling the world. Thus, you’ll find plenty of influences in his dishes from one of his favorite locations: Spain. His partner in his blossoming project is Marcella Anise Smith, a mother of two, who comes up with the restaurant’s swanky original cocktails as the manager and beverage director. The drinks come with giant ice cubes and are served in bottles, serving choices that are both aesthetically pleasing and practical. The passion that both Mac and Marcella have for their food comes across on the table: they clearly have a deep love for and knowledge of the ingredients. Each plate and each cup is filled with a complex blend of flavors and textures–the delicious results of careful experimentation. 
 
As if Rusty Mackerel couldn’t get any better, this place is perfect for literally any vibe that you need. Want to impress your parents when they’re in town? Bring them here for brunch and walk near the river (there’s a great view of the GW Bridge). Have a date coming up? First off, good for you! Secondly, start off with a leisurely stroll through the park at 190th and then bunker down for dinner and drinks. Need to escape the campus hubbub with friends? Take advantage of your Fridays and order a round of Octopus Bravas to share before visiting the nearby Cloisters (free admission with Columbia ID). I had that ideal blend of lovely fall weather, fantastic company, and mind-blowing food. (I swear, I actually cried at one point because the cauliflower was so great.)
 

THE FOOD

We’ll be doing a feature of Rusty Mackerel in our Winter 2013 Issue (to be released in January 2014 with snazzy photos and design layouts abound), but I couldn’t wait to tell you about the incredible brunch I had here last weekend. We started off with hot, fresh coffee (mmm) and dug into two brunch specialities. The first is a play on Chicken and Waffles featuring jerk quail, pureed sweet potato, and a smoked maple bacon sauce, all wrapped up in a crunchy waffle cone. I asked Mac how he came up with this one, and he explained that it was originally for a large fundraising event. “I tried to think, how would people carry this around at the event? What would be cool, but still have great taste?” Mac said. It paired great with one of Marcella’s signature drinks, the Fire & Brimstone which features Balcones Brimstone Smoked Blue Corn Whiskey, Grand Marnier, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Marcella had a similar answer to questions regarding her creativity, sharing, “It tends to start out with a single ingredient, one that you really want to craft something around. You think, what complements this, how can I make it even better?” 

 

We spent the rest of brunch also trying the Scotch Egg wrapped in Merguez paired with a harissa sauce and a fresh bread. The Scotch Egg was cooked perfectly, tender and runny on the inside, hearty and dense on the outside. Harissa, a hot chili sauce from Tunisia (the smallest country in North Africa), added a playful kick to the meal and brought the dish from rustic to spunky. I asked Marcella to share one of her new creations with us, and she brought out a vodka-based drink built around a Concord grape juice that she was temporarily calling “Purple Drank.” Expect to see it on future menus! We also tried both sides (you’ll understand why when you see what they’re called): Steakhouse Bacon and Sea Salt Potatoes. The potatoes were especially impressive having brined for hours in a sea salt bath before being cooked and served with a paprika aioli. 
 
But it didn’t stop there. I asked Mac to cook us up more dishes from the dinner menu, whatever his favorites were. This seemed to be the magic phrase, and the first thing out were Cod Croquettes. Now, I’m not a big seafood person, but I fell in love with the briny marine flavors that came out of Mac’s kitchen. Cod’s a hearty fish that usually tastes rather dense, but this take altered the consistency of the cod into a smooth, heavy cream surrounded by a light crunch topped with what Mac called “sexy scallions” and a saffron aioli. I could easily have eaten twenty of these. 

 

Then, out came one of Rusty Mackerel’s most beloved dishes: the Cauliflower Chop. Completely vegan and inspired from a chimichurri steak, this dish consisted of a halved cauliflower topped with a tangy cauliflower curry puree, crispy fried shallots, and a golden raisin chimichurri sauce. The sweet, chewy bites of raisin combined with the caramelized, springy edges of the cauliflower made for a sinfully unique flavor profile. (And if you’re feeling especially bad, scoop up a bite of everything and add some of that steakhouse bacon.) And, as if we couldn’t eat enough food, Marcella recommended a sparkling wine and a rosé while we soared through a shared plate of Octopus Bravas. Inspired by Mac’s time abroad, this dish is a play on patatas bravas, a traditional Spanish dish consisting of fried potatoes served with a spicy tomato mayonnaise sauce. The version a la Rusty Mackerel came with more of his delectable Sea Salt Potatoes with tender bites of octopus, served with smoked paprika aioli and a homemade romesco sauce (made up of, amongst other things, red peppers and roasted almonds).
 
Are you hungry yet? Because, I’m not going to lie, I’m hungry again just writing about it. 
 

THE END

I’m an Army Brat which means I’ve moved around my whole life, never quite feeling settled. It only makes sense, then, that I was able to write this review during our Fall Homecoming issue. After all, Rusty Mackerel makes me feel like I’m coming home. Do yourself a favor, and go home to the Rusty Mackerel. 
 
From campus, catch the M4 bus at 116th street and get off at 187th. Walk west up the hill and the restaurant will be to your left. Eat everything, and enjoy. 
 
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Rusty Mackerel

209 Pinehurst Ave, NY, NY 10033
Dinner: Seven nights a week
Late Night Happy Hour: Thursday – Saturday
Brunch: Saturday & Sunday
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To learn more about the “Homecoming” online issue, click here.  To see the Hungry Wednesday articles, click here.  To see the other articles in the “Homecoming” online issue, click here. And don’t forget to fill out our Hungry Wednesday survey here.
The author is a senior at Columbia University majoring in Creative Writing.

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