The Mollusks at The Clam Pull You Into the Deep Like an Undertow
A celebration of bivalves
Although they looked at spaces in Brooklyn, it surprised no one that Mike Price and Joey Campanaro would open The Clam — their sequel to Carmine Street's Market Table — in the West Village. The affluent neighborhood has been kind to them throughout their careers at The Little Owl and Market Table. And even though the restaurant-packed area has its fair share of seafood spots, none of them are as micro-focused as this ode to a specific style of coastal cookery inspired by Price's youth near the Chesapeake Bay.
New York hosts plenty of raw bars, seafood shacks, and places specializing in East Coast seafood boils, but Campanaro's and Price's history with the neighborhood has imbued The Clam with an air of durability. Surely, a "neighborhood restaurant" scented candle would smell like the buttery Parker House rolls that get things started here. Even the design — decidedly upscale, with exposed brick and mother-of-pearl–tiled ceilings — feels miles away from the ocean, and yet Price's food pulls you into the deep like a tempestuous undertow.
As promised, clams take center stage, but diners aren't necessarily relegated to an all-bivalve meal. Price has stated that his intentions are to celebrate the sturdy mollusks, not only with a clam-heavy menu (eight dishes to be exact) but also by fleshing out the offerings with complementary plates. For a chef who shies away from molecular techniques and favors a more straightforward approach to plating, clam chowder is eye-catching. Bobbing with chewy lardons, the heavy-cream stew base gets a boost from intense clam stock and plenty of chopped-up clams, whose shells resemble clutch purses propped open with diced celery, potatoes, and onions. Oyster crackers melt into the soup, thickening the broth with their starches. The attractive bowl is a fine precursor to the kitchen's only non-seafood entrée, Price's crisp-skinned half-chicken over meaty hen of the woods mushrooms and grilled lettuce, rustic and unfussy.
But it's the clams that matter most, and they shine nearly every way Price uses them. Raw Littlenecks on the half shell would be right at home on the Jersey Shore, bursting with saline liquor and begging for cocktail sauce and a squeeze of lemon. Bonus: An assortment of raw vegetables protruding from a thimble of green goddess dressing cleanses the palate for more clam damage. Stuffed cherrystones arrive broiled and steaming hot, spilling over with a mix of clams, crisp pancetta, breadcrumbs, and the Cajun holy trinity of onions, bell peppers, and celery. Forget the gunky, wet-mush-stuffed clams you've had elsewhere — these come perfumed with lemon juice, the bread crumbs retaining a satisfying crunch.
What Scott Conant did for spaghetti with tomato and basil at Scarpetta, Price has done for spaghetti alle vongole. Studded with chopped clams, a tangle of rough-edged pasta as ragged as Rust Cohle's present-day 'do sits under a mop of arugula, green onions, and parsley. Like those other famous noodles, what makes this dish is a superior sauce that burns with a slow red pepper heat softened by plenty of butter, coating the palate with an addictive richness. Balanced by the verdant greens, the plate feels contemporary in that it doesn't just use the herbs for garnish. Mixed in with the spaghetti, they lend a mesmerizing brightness.
While it's difficult to make peace with a $24 clam roll, the price tag nets you a layer of lobster remoulade; chunks of sweet crustacean contrast with greaseless fried clam bellies piled high on griddled brioche. Tangy, creamy, and sweet, the lobster dressing is a decadent addition to an already superlative sandwich. Deceptively robust, the kitchen will gladly split the sandwich to share with a shallow dish of Old Bay–seasoned chips on the side. Clam fried rice threatens to be overshadowed by ginger, but each bite brings a volleying combination of sour, sweet, and savory thanks to snow peas, pickled onions, and pork belly, crowned with shreds of bottarga, shiso, and cilantro.
Desserts are predictably casual but deliver their simple pleasures effectively. The most intricately plated is a dense coconut-lime bread pudding made with leftover Parker House rolls. The burnished golden puck wears a headdress of coconut ice cream and a handsome pineapple sash. Like much of the food at The Clam, it's a treat for which we'd happily part with clams of our own.
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