Don’t judge a fish by its scales! To the West 3rd Street passerby, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s summery seafood joint Son of a Gun resembles a casual but whimsical, south-Florida fish shack, with its sun-faded pastel shades as the canvass to a large, nautical pawn-shop collection of beachy tchotchkes. But once the dishes emerge, it becomes soberingly obvious that there’s nothing laid-back about the food. Here Shook and Dotolo have created an equally popular, full-flavored, scales-and-shells equivalent to Animal, their immensely successful carnivore paradise less than a mile away.
The comprehensive sharing menu is grouped by critter category rather than courses, and the bright and cheerful, color-splashed plates arrive with hurricane speed, but never seemed to deluge the table.
In the what appears to be the land of 101 vinaigrettes, the Hamachi crudo (raw fish) is splashed with a wonderfully sour dressing and prodded with sweetness from the doll-sized apple dice.
The superb Lemonfish Poke and radishes enjoy quite a different vinegary bath as they hide under a nest of the most exotically crispy sunchoke chips. Sunchoke chips? Finally someone brave enough to do something with sunchokes other than purée or au-gratin.
Uni & Burrata might very well be the names of my unborn children, but I can’t say that the fresh sea urchin and cream-centered mozzarella played very nicely in the sandbox together. Even the addition of yuzu lemon and button mushrooms couldn’t seem to entice them to get along. But the Jamaican jerk spiced Scottish Salmon with a sweet vinaigrette, chilies and cherries was like raiding a pirate ship with all sorts of treasures from The Carribbean to the coast of Spain and beyond. But enough about the crudo!
I could have made an entire meal of the Chilled Peel & Eat Shrimp spiked with cajun spices and a citrusy mustard dipping sauce, were it not for the Hamachi Collar, a large, triangular section of fish from just behind the head and gills. In strict accordance with the adage that everything tastes better when cooked on the bone, Shook and Dotolo finish this especially flavorful fish cheek with yet another vibrant vinaigrette and fresh herbs.
Normally one wouldn’t dare order chicken at a seafood restaurant, but that’s not the word on this street. On most of the dozen or so tables (ours included), stood at least one 9-inch tall gobbeliciously crispy, Sriracha aioli Fried Chicken Sandwich, stuffed with a zesty, citrusy, peppery, pickley coleslaw. A monumental challenge to bite into (given that a temporary jaw dislocation was out of the question), many of the slaw shreds escaped from between the fingers, landing on the plate (for subsequent re-consumption) or landing on the trousers right next to the napkin (for subsequent dry cleaning), but a highly satisfying ordeal nonetheless.
The menu winds down with a bright and seasonal choice of salads and sides like the popular Shishito Peppers smothered in Bottarga (cured fish roe) aioli and fresh basil or the wonderfully refreshing White Peach salad with mint and chili.
Desserts are equally summery with sorbets, gelato sandwiches and an impossibly delicious Banana Bread with coffee ice-cream and salty candied pecans.
It certainly appears that everything this dynamic duo touches, turns to caviar. I anxiously await the opening of their next act, Jon and Vinny’s on Fairfax this fall.