City Pulse

By Kelly Hushin

Unless you live in the hood, the idea of trekking up to 187th Street for dinner might seem like the silliest idea of the year. I can assure you, thanks to Chef James “Mac” Moran, it’s not.

A new restaurant from Moran, who sharpened his knives with the likes of Todd English, has opened in the small Hudson Heights neighborhood (an enclave of Washington Heights right by the Hudson river), that makes the journey undoubtedly worth it.

Rusty Mackerel, which opened in the spring of 2013, boasts a downtown feel with the friendly, approachable vibe of uptown. Chef Moran was born and raised in the area and started out at Frank’s Market, a nearby grocery that started as a small custom butcher shop. His first notable chef job was at Chanterelle in Tribeca, and in 2002 he was welcomed into Todd English Enterprises by joining the line at OLiVES New York.

Chef Mac, as he is affectionately called, has all the skills of a five-star chef, with none of the pretention. His most popular dish on the menu came from an experiment/joke; a dish he never even thought would end up on the menu is now one of the most frequently ordered dish night after night. What is it?

A cauliflower chop.

You heard that right – it’s a chop, like a pork chop, but cut from the heart of a cauliflower. The flower is then sautéed in a pan and topped with the most delicious mixtures of sauces, plumply soaked raisins and a pile of fluffy, crisp arugula. As the general manager/beverage director, Marcella Smith, said, “There’s so much going on in my mouth right now!” She called Mac a “crazy mad scientist” when it comes to food.

When coupled with one of Smith’s recommended wines or cocktails, the cauliflower chop becomes one of the best meals you’ll have had in the city in a very long time –and it’s vegan. But don’t fret; if you’re more of a carnivore, there are plenty of options on the menu to satisfy your meat or dairy lust. The cod croquettes appetizer is particularly divine, a crunchy exterior that doesn’t retain a mop of grease, and a warm, creamy interior that’s made of a perfectly concocted mixture.

If the Brooklyn gentrification trend continues as quickly as it has been the past few years, it won’t be long before Upper Manhattan is in the same boat. So we suggest you get there fast – it might be a reservations only situation before we know it.

Originally published February 2014
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