CATCH Restaurant featuring Top Chef Hung Huynh by Steve V. Rodriguez

Top Chef Hung Huynh's Catch in NYCCATCH featuring Executive Chef and Season 3 Top Chef winner, Hung Huynh IS the reason to dine at the new eatery in New York’s Meatpacking district. After having a few stints at restaurants around the country including Anja Bar also in the Meatpacking, Hung has hooked up with successful restaurant/nightlife group EMM Group. If watched Season 3 of Top Chef then you understood why Hung took home the title of Top Chef. His outward confidence and dexterity within the kitchen produced some of the most inventive and intricate dishes compared to his competition. Being a favorite and winning Top Chef doesn’t always guarantee a success in restaurant land (i.e. Sam Talbot at Imperial No. 9). However, winners Harold Dieterle and Michael Voltaggio have successfully created spots in New York and Los Angeles.

Location is everything and with a two-story locale in the heart of the Meatpacking,  the restaurant has been a hot ticket to nab a reservation or spot at the bar ever since it’s opening this past Fall.  Unfortunately after three visits to CATCH I was hoping some of the attitude at the front check-in would have been left on the cobblestone steps just outside, but it has proven to not be true. On my first and second visit my group encountered the same hostess with attitude who seemed bothered by our presence. Clearly  she should rethink her position in the hospitality field. After having us wait for 20 minutes in the bar, she approached us about 5 feet away from where we were standing and motioned with her hand and a raise of her eyebrow, which apparently signaled she was ready for us….hmmm is that really the best way to welcome guests? I think not! It’s clear the front check-in has a heavy dosage of self appointed importance to deal with night after night and I’m sure it’s not particularly always pleasant, however, a bad attitude is never good in a restaurant. On my most recent visit the hostesses were swamped and not overly friendly, but competent.

The bar scene on the first floor where every guest has to wait no matter what time your reservation is can be a scene of obnoxious proportions and is always over crowded and a fight to make your way to obtain a cocktail. Don’t worry, you’ll have time as the wait can be quite long. Remember to find a spot and hold your ground amongst the revelers and finally remind yourself your about to experience amazing cuisine that will be worth the wait! You’ll have to also get passed the self-important bartender who I’ve now unfortunately encountered twice.  On one occasion he took our simple champagne order, disappeared for over 10 minutes, returned without our champagne and proceeded to chat up his buddy at the end of the bar. In the meantime Miss ‘Attitude’ hostess informed us our table was ready and when we tried to get the bartender’s attention he put his finger up to us and said, “Yeah, I know, I’m getting to it…,” as we promptly replied “Don’t Bother!”

Hamachi Tartar at Catch in NYCWhew, I had to get all of that mess off of my shoulders and clear the way for praise regarding Chef Hung’s cuisine. On all three occasions I dined upstairs which the vibe is a great blend of warm and rustic charm. Graffiti washes the brick walls adding an urban downtown edge with blond wood windows looking onto the neighborhood. Light wood and steel beams frame the room while brass light fixtures and colors of mustard and aqua blue accent the table and chairs. A huge open kitchen is just one of the centerpieces of the room featuring a marble counter for dining that faces the kitchen and is adjacent to Chef Huynh who feverishly works examining every dish as it’s coming out of the kitchen. Service at CATCH is actually great. All of the servers are knowledgeable about the food and speak of it with enthusiasm pointing out their favorites. On my first visit it seemed that they were overstaffed with a mix of servers and waitstaff, however we noticed that dirty plates were left on the table in between courses and no one could be found to wipe up the table prior to dessert. However, this has been improved upon as noticed on my last two recent visits.

Crispy Rice Cakes at Catch Restaurant CATCH allows Chef Huynh to show off his culinary sophistication and inventiveness on a menu that is meant to share, drawing inspiration from his Vietnamese background which has many of it’s roots in Asian and French stylings plus nods to a multitude of global cuisine. The menu is divided into Raw Bar, HOT and Entrees. Recently I started with a half dozen oysters and I was happy to learn that they featured truly local oysters from New York. Sushi is also featured on the Raw Bar menu and is extremely fresh. My first visit I had the delicious HellFire Roll which included spicy tuna two ways, pear and balsamic. On my most recent visit my friend and I decided on the Toro Tartare, but the very enthusiastic server steered us towards the Hamachi Tartare instead which included pear, avocado and potato chips. A good move was made as the crispy chips blended perfectly with the avocado, crispy pear and buttery Hamachi.

Crab-Stuffed Calamari at Catch RestaurantThe HOT menu offers many of my favorites and thus are perfect for sharing and trying a number of eclectic dishes amongst friends. The Crab- Stuffed Calamari is a must as it’s filled with chorizo, chickpea, piquillo, mint and chili-lime. With practically every restaurant these days placing squid and octopus on their menu, Hung offers a unique and delicious alternative drawing inspiration from Spanish cuisine. Plan on ordering one or two orders of the Crunchy Rice Cakes. They come two to an order, but your mouth will be asking for more. At the base sits crunch rice with a layer of tuna tartare atop mixed with wasabi and tobiko – YUM! I actually think about these cakes often. On two occasions I had the Red Mussels that include chili, tomato and extra virgin olive oil. The mussels are very big and juicy, but it’s the spicy tomato sauce that is the winner on this dish. The Scallop Dumplings with shrimp and caviar-vichyssoise were good on my first visit and similar to dim sum, but were also the one dish I almost forgot about. On my most recent visit the same server ordered us to get the Macaroni & Lobster Cream with mascarpone and breadcrumbs. The mini tubular pasta was a sinful delight and decadent alternative to mac & cheese.The Entrees are all quite large in appearance and not the best options to share, however I would recommend the Crispy Whole Snapper with pepper, oyster mushroom, chili and garlic. The Malaysia and Thailand inspired dish comes whole, but can be filleted and served boneless after presentation to the party. The crispy succulent snapper paired great with the spicy accompaniments.

Wine is carefully picked to pair well with the savory flavors. On two occasions the sommelier recommended a Riesling by Donnhoff. The amount of minerality and dryness was a perfect match for almost every dish and flavor at a price point that didn’t break the bank.

BOTTOM LINE: CATCH is a tough reservation to secure due to it’s  trendy location and current status as the ‘it spot’, but it’s worth the bullsh*t one has to endure from the hostess stand and bar scene to make your way upstairs to the stars;  that being Chef Huynh and his inspired and delicious cuisine that you will remember weeks after your visit.

CATCH is located at 21 Ninth Ave. New York, NY. www.emmgroupinc.com