154 West 13th Street, near 7th Avenue, West Village, (212) 229-0222
174 East 82nd Street, at 3rd Avenue, Upper East Side, (212) 717-7772
Getting There: 1,2,3 to 14th Street & 4,5,6 to 86th Street
Restaurant Review: Flex Mussels
Typically a large silver pot overflowing with mussels and accompanied by a heaping side of fresh cut French fries would not necessarily be considered fine dining. But Flex Mussels has managed to replace picnic benches with table cloths and blends a tremendous selection of sauce options with some of the city’s tastiest mollusks, for a truly unique dining experience.
Upon entering the newer of the two Flex Mussels locations (the west village- opened September 2010), the sleek, long bar with vibrant scene, serves to greet your entrance right behind the host stand. To your right are some bar tables lining the walls, also packed, but the layout is incredibly modern looking. Beyond the more casual seating area is a larger, more traditional dining room floor. The mural along the back wall shows a serene but illuminated beachfront and lighthouse which is a quintessential conversation piece in an otherwise dimly lit area. The space itself is spaciously comfortable and the whole vibe is relatively relaxed for a restaurant with this atmosphere.
But enough about ambiance and experience and onto flavor and taste- Flex Mussels brings both. The menu offers more mussel choices than you ever thought existed- from Traditional with white wine, herbs, and garlic ($17.50), to Funghi (wild mushrooms, double smoked bacon, garlic, and cream- $19.50), to the Maine ($20.50)- a delicious combination of lobster, smoked bacon, white chowder, corn, and parsley. Not a fan of mussels (and we’re lukewarm on them)? Flex has some alternative options. With your standard lobster roll ($24), fish and chips ($23), a small selection from the raw bar, and the only non-seafood dish, the farmer’s roasted chicken ($24)- braised with garlic confit, and doused in gravy- the restaurant is clearly focused on the shellfish, but the menu is fairly scant by way of other choices.
But alas, we didn’t go to a place called Flex Mussels for fish. We were there for the mussels and with 23 different sauces, deciding on only one became problematic. As noted in the accompanying gallery, the mussels are served in deep, shiny silver pots, which inside are packed in with the black shells and drenched in salty broth. Based on our server’s recommendation, we decided on the San Danielle ($20.50)- small chunks of prosciutto, caramelized onions, white wine, and garlic, saturating the pot of mussels. The mouth-watering broth served as an endless base for our bread dipping. Our gripe with this dish was that even though it was big on flavor, searching for the tiny pieces of prosciutto became a chore, and we had hoped for more of the salted meat. However, the Bruschetta ($20.50) picked up the slack where the San Danielle left us hanging. Filled with chunks of San Marzano tomatoes, lobster, marinated tomato, and extra-large croutons, this was the highlight of the meal for us and outshone our other dish. The portion of fresh lobster was generous and the sweet tomatoes served as a perfect compliment to the savory mussels. It should be noted that the mussels in each dish were perfectly cooked and, as far as mussels go, did not leave our hands all that messy- many of the shells were wide open enough that our fingers could stay dry. Also the famous hand-cut French fries ($6) played as a noble salty counterpoint to the flavorful mussel dishes.
Admittedly, our love for mussels is tepid. We can take them or leave them. But we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to stop into a newly opened restaurant that gets many of the intricacies of dining out in Manhattan right the first time. The service was impeccable and the portions were sizable. And if you are a fan of mussels, this place is a can’t miss and serves a unique dining experience for seafood lovers.