In the summertime, I crave seafood. All the time. This past warm Friday was no exception, and with the lure of Coney Island's Friday night fireworks display (another summer institution), I convinced Bca to board the F Train with me. Instead of fried "clams strips" on the famed Coney boardwalk, we were headed to Gambrinus, located at the border of where Coney Island becomes Brighton Beach.
Gambrinus was a recommendation from a former co-worker, himself a native of Russia and a resident of Brighton Beach. "Good beers, good fresh seafood," he said. "You will like it -- check it out." I had walked by it several times on my adventures in Brighton Beach, but I had never wandered in. Friday was the perfect time to check it out.
When we walked in, Bca and I were greeted by brusque teenage waiters dressed in sailor costumes, who pointed us blithely to the spacious patio, which faces the butt end of Ocean Parkway. The restaurant itself is located about a block from the boardwalk, and trumpets its proximity to the sea with nautical decorations. The patio is draped in fisherman's nets, christmas lights and beer paraphenalia, creating an informal atmosphere. On Friday, the patio was about 1/3 full of groups, consisting mostly of locals feasting on shared platters of smoked fish or lobsters.
Since we were indeed there for the beer and seafood, we wasted no time placing an order for fried calamari and a 1/2 litre mug each of Weihenstephaner ($5), which our waiter assured us was a wheat beer. It is worth noting that Gambrinus also offers 1 litre beers for $9.
The beers were cold and hearty. I could barely finish mine. The calamari ($10) arrived, and its portion size was shockingly large -- it could have fed five. The batter was a bit mundane -- no fancy spicing in this coating -- but it betrayed no time spent frying in old oil. The calamari itself was noticeably fresh -- chewy, pliant, and crisp. The accompanying sauce was your standard-issue marinara sauce, which was unremarkable but serviceable. Bca and I made a dent, but did not come close to finishing this dish.
For our main courses, we had both gone straight for the fish. Bca orderd the broiled red snapper ($14.50), which is also available pan-fried, and I opted for the broiled sea bass ($22). Glancing up from our calamari consumption, we saw the waiter struggling to deliver our orders, each of which arrived displayed on an enormous 16" serving platter. Each fish was accompanied by a small pitcher of a creamy sauce, and two sizeable dollops of garlicky mashed potatoes, cradling a pool of olive oil and tufted like a turret. My fish, served boneless, also received a side of a sweet, tomato-based ratatoiulle-esque mix of squash, carrots and onions, while Bca's, which was served with the bones, had a side of sweet cabbage.
My fish was perfectly cooked, and flaked off in moist white chunks. The top was also pan-fried, resulting in a delicate, oily crunch. I used only about half of my cream sauce atop the fish -- it seemed to add silky texture but not much flavor. The vegetables were sweet and appreciably not over-cooked. They provided a nice un-oily contrast to the fish and potatoes.
Despite the serving size, Bca and I did admirable jobs finishing our meals, with yours truly coming quite close to cleaning hers. I was absolutely stuffed and turned aside with ease thoughts of ordering a hot fudge sundae, which were being ordered by all the surrounding patrons. Given the quality of the seafood, Gambrinus struck me as a bargain with a relaxed, chill environment. I could imagine many a summer evening spent here by the ocean with friends. Bca thought as much too.
It should be noted that Gambrinus is a Russian restuarant -- the menu is printed in both English and Russian, and features a number of Russian dishes including various smoked fishes and borscht. I'd be game to tackle those on another trip. I definitely plan to come back before I leave for China.
We peeked inside the main dining room, where the nautical theme had been taken to a new level. Every inch the main dining room is paneled with laquered wood, like the inside of a ship. We paused to pose with life-size wooden pirate at the entrance before departing in to the warm summer night for Coney's boardwalk.
3100 Ocean Parkway@ W. Brighton Avenue
F to W.8th Street, Brooklyn