Restaurants come and go, especially in New York, and I usually don't get attached to them or mourn them, but this sudden departure hurts a bit. For several years, Pacific Echo was the reliable little place around the corner for a Saturday night dinner. It was the first place my daughter learned to sit down and behave in a restaurant. This was where she learned to love California roll, edamame and green tea ice cream. When we first started going there several years ago, we kept going back for the seafood sate and the special rolls that did not use seaweed -- something that I had been told to avoid for obscure medical reasons involving a drug interaction with blood thinners. My wife, not always in the mood for sushi, became a fan of a particular marinated tofu dish. My favorite order quickly became the Hot Mama and the Bomb, spicy concoctions of eel, lobster, crab and other good bits wrapped either in cucumber leaves or rice paper. The cocktail selection was unique and interesting -- mango mojitos, a sake-tini, the French and others I forget -- and well-prepared. The owner was known to circulate among the tables buying customers drinks every once in a while. Some out-of-town friends stopped by there one night when we were not around and said they spent an uproarious evening drinking into the wee hours with him. The waiters and waitresses knew us and usually put us at the same table. There were times when we ate there two or three times a month. Sometimes we would order takeout.
There was some positive feedback on sites like Yelp, but Pacific Echo never really seemed to take off. It was somewhat off the beaten path at 242 W. 56th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue, in a row of restaurants that included a Baluchi's Indian restaurant, Patsy's Italian, a sushi place and some other nondescript Midtown restaurants we have never checked out.
From the start, they did not mind that we came in with a 4-year-old, who eventually turned into a 9-year-old, and the prices weren't too bad. (There's plenty of fine Asian food in the neighborhood -- we were delighted to stumble across Sugiyama recently -- but this was homey.)
Over time, we became regulars, and the staff knew our habits ("Another mango mojito? Some green tea ice cream for the little lady?"). From time to time, we recognized some other regulars, but most nights it was an odd assortment of tourists and other passers-by who had stumbled in. It was an easygoing crowd, friendly, and often jolly. On more than one occasion, people at neighboring tables jumped into our conversations.
No more. The first bad sign was the disconnected phone when we decided to order a delivery on a whim. A trip on Saturday confirmed the worst: A sign on the door stating that the landlord had seized the property. Judging by the date, it had been shut down a few days after we last ate there in mid-December, before the holidays. It felt a little like some good friends of ours had suddenly packed up and moved out of town without a word. To be sure, there had been signs of trouble for the last couple of years. The water on the wall waterfall was turned off. The clever tables -- with many varieties of beans and grains encased in glass -- were starting to show cracks and other wear and tear.
The extensive Asian fusion menu was scaled back a couple of times, with some favorite or odd dishes eliminated (no more seafood sate, or Malaysian specialties), and some obvious prepackaged things added (spicy rock shrimp). For a while, you could still order missing favorites even if they were off the menu. But then, you couldn't. The dinner crowd was thinner, though admittedly we had never had trouble getting a table without a reservation. The upstairs dining area was closed down. The owner no longer strolled among the tables, and while some staff faces remained familiar, there appeared to be new management and a strain to keep up appearances. On many an evening, as we strolled there, we had passed a second sushi place next door, with a much more traditional menu and decor, and not the same easygoing feel to it. On this evening, we doubled back and tried it for the first time. It was O.K. But it wasn't Pacific Echo.