Niche restaurants seem to be all the rage right now. Well-respected chefs find one particular product, and then completely change and manipulate any preconceived notions you might have had. At the Clam, seafood is the ultimate name of the game. While beautiful oysters, crabs and scallops find their way onto the menu, as well, the entire middle section of the relatively small menu is dedicated to the restaurant’s namesake.
The restaurant itself is designed with impeccable style. Exposed brink contrasts with the slick white table cloths and simple stemware. It’s intimate without screaming overly romantic, attracting a mix of businessmen, trendy girls and couples.
Deciphering the menu proves to be the most difficult part of the dining experience. Clam fried rice, spaghetti & clams, clam dip, fried clam sandwich, clam chowder. The options seem endless with each one sounding better then the last. And this isn’t accounting for the the raw and appetizer sections filled with crudos, oysters and chilled king crab. And wait, the veggies and appetizers pack their own flavorful punch.
Amber and I decided this meal was not one to skimp out on. We narrowed down the already small menu to 10 favorites, asking the waiter for further assistance skimming down our selections. He helped to explain the small size of the raw dishes and seafood appetizers. And helped to pick his “best of the best” in the House Specialties section. And to be faux healthy, we decided one gluttonous vegetable dish must make its way to our table.
The meal began on such a high note, with the ridiculously good clam dip with homemade “zesty” potato chips.
Creamy, chunky clam dip elevated with a subtle spice from cayenne pepper and Worcestershire sauce. They hardly skimp out on the utilization of clams, with tender chopped pieces in each and every bite. The crunchy potato chips act as the ideal vessel for scooping the rich and addictive dip.
They do not automatically bring over the house baked, instead casually offering them. They are complimentary, and absolutely divine.
I know the rule is not to fill up on bread, but it’s a little difficult when these right out of the oven rolls arrive at your table, smelling of sweet butter and yeast. Big flakes of sea salt on top make the roll even more addictive. If you can, save a little bit of the roll for later to dip into the ridiculous clam chowder.
Next, we moved to the raw portion of the meal steering away from the namesake clam.
Served two ways, this raw king crab dish highlights the beauty and integrity of the seafood. Sweet pieces of chilled King Crab meat, easily breaks apart. The spicy creamy mustard provides a beautiful contrast to the sweet, gorgeous crab. The crab salad is lightly dressed with crispy shallots providing a sweet crunch. The surprise on the dish was the sweet, savory green goodness dressing hidden at the bottom of the metal crudites tin. It provided, yet another, element of freshness with a dish that made me dream of summer.
Sliced scallops have an extremely subtle, light flavor. This makes all of the other components crucial to the success and flavor profile of the dish. The sweet, crunchy hazelnuts and pear, contrasts with the acidity from the lime juice and pickled red onions, balancing the dish. While this dish is really beautifully prepared, it didn’t seem like something particularly unique.
Perhaps the most disappointing dish of the evening. The smoky, licorice flavor from the absinthe was overwhelming, completely masking the briny oyster. Unless you really love licorice, pass on this dish. It was the one time Amber and I didn’t fight over the third piece.
Without asking, the waiter split the soup into two. The Clam manages to make their chowder taste ridiculously light, changing the conception that a soup of this nature is a meal in and of itself. They also makes their chowder a bit more gourmet by keeping the clams in their shells and topping with the buttery oyster crackers. The broth is flavored by chunky pieces of pancetta adding a salty, meatiness to the rich soup. It’s a great, seemingly lighter version, perfect for New York.
More often then not, pasta with clams is served in a white sauce, so the utilization of a spicy red immediately sets this spaghetti apart from the rest. The pasta is fresh, cooked to the ideal al dente and lightly coated in the delightfully spicy tomato sauce. At first glance the pile of arugula and frisee doused in a lemon vinaigrette seemed out of place, but it ended up adding an innate lightness usually lacking in a pasta dish. Once again, the kitchen split our portions, allowing the two of us to dive in without any hesitation.
Our “vegetable” of the meal was only healthy in its name, as The Clam managed to make Kale extremely rich and creamy.
I’m shocked this dish hasn’t found its way into the numerous New York City steak houses. Sweet roasted onions and the wilted, creamy kale proves to be a match made in heaven. The kale is slightly stronger then spinach, letting it keep a subtle crunch as it sits in a pool of cream and butter. This will definitely be recreated at home in the near future.
The Clam is such a welcome addition to the New York food scene. It’s a nice change of pace from the countless lobster roll joins (Pearl’s, Mary’s, Luke’s, Ed’s — all first names, interesting) that fill the downtown area. They make eating clams with your fingers a little bit more gourmet, and change the way you always look at the exact same product. The majority of dishes are fairly priced, allowing you to enjoy a seafood feast without the usual cost. I have a good feeling that The Clam will be a New York seafood institution for a long time to come.
The Clam – 420 Hudson Street – New York, NY
Location: West Village, NY
Type: Seafood, American (Traditional)
Perfect For: Quality Seafood, Impressing Foodies, Date Night, Casual Meal
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Clam Dip, Clam Chowder, Chilled King Crab, Creamed Kale, Spaghetti and Clams