In a dining landscape as crowded with good restaurants as Fifth Avenue South, I’ve always wondered how a new eatery sets itself apart. The answer is not simply with exceptional food, service and design. As I recently discovered at Sails Restaurant, everything must be beyond exceptional.
Walking into Sails for the first time, I was struck by its ambience—the leather banquettes in a fine cognac hue, the striking hanging light fixtures in black and gold over the bar, the expertly played live guitar—as well as the thoughtful touches like the small stools where ladies can place their handbags.
“No detail has been left unscrutinized,” one waitress told us.
The service is Old World European, with each table watched over by a head waiter as well as a second waiter or waitress, plus an army of other attentive staff quick to offer more bread or pour more wine.
I was dazzled by the menu choices, most centered around fresh seafood. Sails brings its fish in daily—branzino and daurade from Greece, sole from Spain, snapper from Japan and pompano from our Gulf waters.
When the head waiter offered us a tour of the fish case, we readily agreed. I was still undecided on my order, but seeing the fresh fish arrayed on ice and hearing his enthusiastic descriptions made the decision for me. The fish is priced per-pound, with the market price posted alongside each item. I chose a whole daurade, and the waiter placed it on a scale and showed me the weight before passing it behind the counter. He recommended I have it prepared on the grill with its imported Japanese charcoal and applewood chips.
Back at the table, our appetizers soon arrived. I had the hamachi crudo ($17), thin slices of raw yellowtail served with tiny balls of melon and a citrus drizzle. The fish was delicately flavored and perfectly offset by the citrusy, peppery sauce. My friend ordered the steak tartare ($16), intent on seeing whether Sails covered the land as well as it covers the sea. Made from grass-fed beef and accompanied by a side of mixed organic greens, the tartare had a rich earthiness that felt well-balanced and carefully thought-out, and I could see that the restaurant’s attention to detail extended to menu items beyond its seafood focus.
For our main courses, we returned to the undersea dishes. The daurade I had chosen ($70) was set in front of me, transformed into perfect filets, the light flavor of the wood smoking delicately perfuming its mildness. My companion had the peppered tuna Rossini ($47) served with foie gras and a truffle reduction. The dish was a delight, meaty and flavorful, unlike any seafood presentation I’d tasted.
The head waiter had suggested earlier in the evening that we might want to put in an order for the restaurant’s trademark chocolate soufflé ($18), which takes half an hour to prepare, and as we watched one arrive at the table next to us, we were glad to know ours was coming. Served with Grand Marnier crème anglaise and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was just as decadent as the other courses.
In keeping with its focus on exceptionalism, the Sails wine list is extensive; the by-the-glass options and bottle selections cover a full 50 pages. Bartenders also conjure bespoke cocktails with premium spirits.
In a locale already packed with many fine options, this superb restaurant is setting itself apart on every level.