Copyright 2003 Bergen Record Corporation
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
June 20, 2003 Friday All Editions
SECTION: GO!; CASUAL DINING; Pg. 040
LENGTH: 993 words
HEADLINE: At Fulton Crab House in Cliffside Park
SOURCE: North Jersey Media Group
BYLINE: MARIA RABAT, RESTAURANT REVIEWER
My first visit to the Fulton Crab House was on Greek Good Friday, and the restaurant was bustling with families who had just come out of church services. It seemed as if everyone was observing the day's meatless dictum, but solemnity was not on the menu. It's the kind of place where customers feel comfortable enough to ask strangers at adjacent tables what it is that they're eating; where the wait staff feels comfortable enough to complain about rude customers to you; and where the fish selection is exhaustive, overwhelming, and fresh, fresh, fresh.
But most of all, it's the kind of place that strives to keep its customers happy. I know someone who left smiling. Mr. New Hampshire (my dining companion) wanted fried clams, which, as our waiter informed us, aren't on the menu until summer. A few moments later, though, the manager presented us with a plate of fried clams -- on the house, no less. "Come back in a few months," she said. "They'll be sweeter." Nothing could have been sweeter than that gesture. We gobbled up those clams; summer be damned.
As a matter of fact, we gobbled up plenty that night. After the fried clam starter, we moved on to a bucket of steamers ($16.95). Mr. New Hampshire, being from New England, fancies himself a clam aficionado. He slurped them right up, but I thought that the clams were far too big -- this Jersey girl prefers a buttery little button of a clam. These guys, 2-inch softshells with necks still attached, were anything but. I'm willing to call this one a draw; perhaps it's nothing more than a regional preference.
The grilled baby squid ($5.95) were delicious, somewhat lemony with a touch of garlic and just the right amount of smoke from the grill. I could have made a meal out of them alone.
The crab cake ($7.95) didn't hold my attention for long. Lots of binder (bread) and far too little crabmeat. And I wasn't bowled over by the Manhattan clam chowder ($4.25), either. Everything was in there -- the clams, the potatoes, and some vegetables -- but the broth was muddy in color, and acidic and peppery, too. In fact, it had such a strong black pepper flavor that I had to lay down my spoon in surrender. The portobello salad ($5.95), with arugula, olives, and red onion, would have been just wonderful had there not been so much vinegar drenching everything on the plate.
Oysters - cool, refreshing, and slightly briny - were the perfect antidote to such misfires. The selection ($17.50) changes daily due to availability. We sampled mild Miyagis, harvested off the coast of Washington, Blue Points (New Yorkers), buttery Kumamotos from Humboldt Bay, Calif., and sweet little treasures called Pine Island oysters from Oyster Bay, Long Island. What an indulgence, and what a lovely way to kick off a meal at Fulton.
In between courses, it's a real treat to watch plates come out of the kitchen. "Ooh, what's that?!" can be heard throughout the small dining room as waiters deliver lobster feasts, king crab legs, and other goodies to wide-eyed customers. Those Alaskan king crab legs ($32.95) called out to me, and I succumbed. I find that they always look better than they actually taste. The first two were tender and buttery, but soon after, I noticed that the texture was rather mealy, and I wished I had ordered something else, like the lobster feast they had at the next table.
Fulton does pastas well. The red snapper Marechiara ($18.95) is a hearty dish brimming with calamari, clams, and mussels tossed in a zesty plum tomato sauce and served over linguine. A tender fillet of red snapper is placed on top, and the combination is altogether winning.
We tried the Fulton Combo ( $14.95), an assortment of shrimp, sea scallops, stuffed clams, and cod fillet, available broiled or fried. We went with fried and were pleased with the outcome. The scallops and shrimp were incredibly moist, enveloped in a pleasant batter that allowed for the seafood flavor to come shining through. If only the cod fillet had a bit more substance. It was far too thin, resulting in more coating than fish.
I've yet to mention the blackboard specials. They are, in a word, staggering. The classroom-sized blackboard easily lists close to 30 kinds of fish to choose from, which can be grilled, broiled, or prepared Cajun-style. From fresh anchovies to yellowtail and everything in between, and I do mean close to everything, it's up there. After deliberating for close to 20 minutes, I finally threw up my hands in defeat and ordered the striped bass, grilled ($14.95). Meaty and succulent, it was a good choice.
After all that food, only a trooper can continue on with dessert. The banana chocolate mousse cake, sinfully rich, was the hands-down favorite. I was disappointed with the house-made apple cobbler (what apple, what cobble?) I had to dig through copious amounts of whipped cream and ice cream to find even a hint of apple. But by then, you could have stuck a fork in us. We were done. And quite content as well.
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(RESTAURANT RATINGS TABLE, page 040)
FULTON CRAB HOUSE
697 Anderson Ave.
Prices: Appetizers $4.95 to $17.95; entrees $10.95 to $32.95; desserts $3.95 to $5.50.
Credit cards: AE, MC, V.
Reservations: Suggested for parties of five or more.
Days closed: None.
Liquor, wine: Yes.
Smoking: Non-smoking area.
Accommodations for children: Yes.
Atmosphere: Fish shack.
Rated by The Record:
June 20, 2003
Restaurants are rated on the quality of their food, atmosphere, service, and value. Halves are given when a restaurant surpasses a level in food, service, or ambience. Reviewers make at least two anonymous visits to a restaurant, and The Record always pays the tab. Price range reflects menu items; specials may be higher.