After an evening of lengthy and expensive marketing research, there's really only one place to go: Chinatown. I dragged about half a gaggle of co-workers and some hangers-on to one of my favorite seafood joints, Peach Farm.
This is not the sort of place that has a website, so I'll just give the address: 4 Tyler Street, although you can find countless reviews online. It's a half flight of stairs down and past some dingy-looking tanks of fish and crabs. This is one of those places whose Zagat rating for food is about four times its decor rating. The service rating is somewhere up the middle, and that corresponds to my experience. Our table was equipped with a lazy susan and a teapot with the lid attached by a length of plastic cable.
On this occasion they were on top of their game. We ordered scallion pancake and potstickers to warm up and because were were starving. But Peach Farm really shines when you start ordering seafood. We chose the steamed bass from the tank and the salty fried softshell crab. To balance out, we added beef lo mein (they were out of the usual fave dry-fried beef chow fun) and peapod stems with garlic sauce.
They brought over the plastic bucket and showed me a couple of striped bass squirming around in it. They were on the small side so we had both. If you go to Peach Farm and order fish from the tank - and you really must - they will do the classic Chinese thing and let you approve the live fish before cooking them. If you don't like the look of them, this is your last chance to send them back for an exchange.
Cooked, the fish were served in a soy-ginger sauce with plenty of ginger, and not much else. The flavor of the fish itself was subtle but delicious. Serving it off the bones without flipping it (that's bad luck) is a trick worth learning. I'm still working on it, but nobody choked.
The soft shell crab arrived in a heap of golden fried morsels with some chiles and scallions scattered about. Hot and fresh, with equal measure of salt and spice, the sweet crab meat was about as good as I've ever had, and soft shell crab is wonderfully simple to eat compared to all the cracking and prying involved with tougher exoskeletons.
I usually go for the dry-fried beef chow fun even at this basement of seafood miracles. It's just that good. But they were out so I switched the order to lo mein just in case one of the guests wasn't up for the seafood. You never know, sometimes it happens.
Last to arrive were the peapod stems in garlic sauce. A welcome and delicious bunch of roughage, peapod stems have a cut grass kind of smell and a nice taste to match. The garlic sauce was light but assertive. An excellent break from the greasy crab and noodles.
If you find yourself in or near Chinatown - perhaps visiting the Hudson Street Gallery - in need of fresh seafood and a relaxed good time, Peach Farm is an excellent choice. These four dishes are a good place to start, but there's a lot more to explore there.