Marcus and I had a little date night over at the Upper East Side location of Flex Mussels two weekends ago, thanks to a kind recommendation from a co-worker of mine, Tanya. She told me it's one of her favorite spots in the city, so I've been dying to check it out over the last six months. Finally made it though!
Chef Michael Sullivan along with Chef Zac Young, the pastry chef featured as a Top Chef: Just Desserts finalist, are the culinary masterminds behind the menu at Flex Mussels. Bobby and Laura Shapiro originally ran two restaurants on Canada’s Prince Edward Island (PEI), and in 2008, they imported one of them to New York (this location).
On the walls of the restaurant are photos of things and such seen on PEI, the source of some of the best mussels the world has to offer.
Each table had a little metal bucket as a tealight holder, emulating a very nautical and sea-themed décor. As for the menu, one side of the menu read, "Mussels, Mussels, Mussels," which was, essentially, all the different style of mussel pots offered by the restaurant along with the option to order a side of fries (plain or TRUFFLE!) to perfectly recreate the Belgian/northern French moules-frites (i.e., mussels and fries in French, respectively). What an ode to the shiny black bivalve! Along with the restaurant's own name (flex mussels-muscles, haha), word play and witticisms linger throughout the titles and names of its menu items. Additionally, many of the mussel dishes are named for and inspired from regions of the world and cultures (e.g., Little Neck, Bombay, New Marseille, Thai, etc.).
The other side of the menu read "Not Mussels," stating the obvious other non-mussel options on the menu. This includes an array of starter dishes, raw bar offerings, other seafood courses, and whole fish!
Pail of bread!
So from the "Not Mussels" section of the menu, Marcus and I went with Burnt Fingers -- a platter of crispy fried calamari, shrimp, oysters, and shallot rings with a side of spice aioli. Considering this was essentially a medley of glorious deep fried seafare, the batter was very light, creating a very favorable batter-to-seafood ratio with no sogginess or too much batter. In fact, the flavors from the calamari, shrimp, and oysters carried strongly over the typically over-seasoned and overwhelming amounts of batter. The spicy aioli wasn't overpowering either -- it had the right amount of zing to the sauce without being too bitey. It may have been too much, quantity-wise, to be shared between the two of us, especially with our pots of mussels shortly following, but definitely recommended for a party of three or more.
Per Marcus's suggestion of us ordering one more "traditional"-style pot of mussels (that was on him) and one not-so-traditional pot of mussels (that was on me) so we could try a wider range of flavors between the two of us, I had the Thai-style mussel pot with curry coconut broth, lemongrass, coriander, lime, garlic, and ginger. Very, very bold flavors that were incredibly authentic to Thai cuisine, especially the curry coconut broth, lemongrass, and lime. The mussels, no surprise, were really juicy, soft, and perfect. While the Thai-style mussels were done very well, I think the flavors were a bit extreme for me -- I prefer the classic, more traditional preparation of mussels, typically in a white wine sauce with a little butter.
Marcus ordered the Little Neck pot of mussels with fresh chopped clams, bacon, red pepper, bread crumbs, and herbs as the more "traditional" preparation style. This was really, really great! Definitely one of the many cases where bacon indeed makes any meal better. The mussels here were really sweet and juicy with the herbs giving them lots of softer flavors compared to the Thai mussels. The clams and bacon cubes were tender as well, adding a nice meatiness to the mussels. Also, the breadcrumbs rounded the flavors out with a pleasant crunch. I would definitely go back for these!
And of course, we couldn't leave without getting dessert. Chef Zac Young of Top Chef: Just Desserts fame created a wonderful menu of desserts at Flex Mussels. We opted for the Flex Donut Collection, selecting four different flavors out of a list of ten or so. Marcus and I split the cinnamon sugar and salted caramel, while I had the raspberry and he the Meyer lemon. We really enjoyed the simple, plain flavored cinnamon sugar (no filling inside) the most. I also liked the raspberry but wasn't crazy about the others. Marcus only liked the cinnamon sugar donut. The vanilla dipping sauce was light and refeshing, too.
I like the dessert block is solely for the Flex Mussels Donut Collection -- it is as if the fried donuts are a specimen collection of the restaurant! Love that!
Findings: If you're looking for some great mussels in the city, you will be sure to find them t the bivalve emporium that is Flex Mussels. Sourced from Prince Edward Island, these mussels will sure to be juicy and flavorful. With a menu of about twenty different styles, you're bound to find something that strikes your foodie fancy. Also as a warning, you'll probably want to order everything on the menu (we certainly did), so just be wise in your selections -- you don't want to be too full to enjoy dessert! There are so many different mussel pots that I want to try, so I'll have to make another trip to Flex Mussels again really soon! This is also a great place for happy hour and for meeting up with friends to catch up over moules-frites!
Price point: $19-20 for each bowl of mussels, $16 for appetizer, $9 for four donuts.
--October 22, 2011
Flex Mussels (Upper East Side)
174 East 82nd Street
New York, NY 10028