Hewlett (516) 812-3920
Restaurant ratings, restaurant ratings, restaurant ratings. Everybody and his uncle have an opinion. They’re in the Zagat survey, in Newsday, in The New York Times, in the Long Island Press, in Pulse magazine and even your Uncle Izzy has a top 10 of his own. They rate the food, the service, the ambiance and give price levels. But no one bestows value ratings. If there was a “best buy” category (and there should be) I’d nominate Mermaid in Hewlett to be in my top three. Although it’s not dirt cheap, it offers food, service and ambiance that cost much less than similar restaurants. Few of them duplicate the quantity and quality for the very modest prices available at Mermaid.
Ten dollars for soup at an upscale restaurant is not unusual. At Mermaid a good-sized bowl of the soup of the day, a rich, sensitively seasoned cream of mushroom brew went for $3. Shrimp cocktail is most often in the $12 to $18 bracket, occasionally even touching $20. At Mermaid a dish of five large, plump shrimp, three slices of lemon and some tangy cocktail sauce was priced at an approachable $9. But pass on the drab pan-fried liver cubes ($8).
Appetizers are often disproportionately more expensive than entrées, especially when the difference in quantity is factored in. A $10 to $20 range is often the norm. At Mermaid only two of 11 were in double figures and all but one of the pasta half portions were in the single digits.
Most main courses are excellent, but not quite the bargains that precede them. With that one exception, pasta entrées are all in the teens, as is one other entrée. Meats and fish are in the low and middle $20s and no dish reaches the $30 level.
Mermaid’s spacious two-dining-room interior is pleasant but unspectacular with conventional art and wall-mounted wine racks. Its large waitstaff is friendly, professional and well above average. Their efforts generate an unmistakable aura of goodwill. (When a lady dropped her handbag and its contents spilled out all over the floor, waiters instantly got on their knees and picked up every piece.)
The cheese tortellini ($14) is an inspired mix of mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, blue cheese, fresh herbs and a heady creamed brandy sauce. There’s an array of cultural influences in the grilled tiger shrimp, given a kick from its lemon garlic sauce and accompanied by baby bok-choy and jasmine rice. The fresh St. Peter’s fish ($23), a char grilled filet, also benefits from its white wine lemon garlic sauce.
Unfortunately, they would have been even better had they not been served on red hot plates that tend to continue cooking and overcooking them. A Fred Flintstone-sized lamb shank ($21) that was both delicate and meaty on a bed of soft mashed potatoes is recommended for diners who seek a full flavored pick.
Ripe, chocolate covered strawberries ($6) are a dessert best buy, while the fluffy, airy tiramisu ($8) and a gutsy cheesecake ($9) deservedly had their adherents.
Mermaid bills itself as French-Italian, but you will need to look long and hard for any authentic French dishes. Concentrate instead on the many gently priced Italian standouts.
photos by stephen lang