Heard of the impossible reservation that is Septime? Well, owners chef Bertrand Grébaut and Théo Pourriat’s recently opened a no-reservations spot (yes, there is hope!) right next door. Clamato is a casual “seafood bistro,” a fish shack of sorts with a French bent, and one of Paris’s best kept secrets.
I say secret not because Clamato flies completely under the radar or anything, it’s just not on anyone’s must-try list and it should be. I actually had a reservation at Taillevant for dinner, but after forty straight days of mostly eating tasting menus at serious restaurants, I wanted something light and not-so-serious. So I wandered over to Clamato and was lucky enough to grab the last open bar stool. Talk about a great vibe: The place is buzzing with chatter, a breeze blowing through the room by way of bay windows opened to the street, and all the while hip music playing in the background. The room itself is trimmed in reclaimed wood, a sunny yellow bar top,tile floors, and huge picture window in the back dining room. The staff is laidback as are the diners, and the mason glasses come filled with silverware (set your own spot at the table). Clamato’s the kind of restaurant you’d walk by on the street and wish you were sitting inside.
There’s a creative cocktail list and a small, well-edited selection of wines to choose from. As for the menu, it’s printed daily, but there seem to be a few, crucial signatures that make the cut every night, like Razor Clams a la plancha and the Scallops with Brown Butter. On the night I was at Clamato, there were Smoked Shrimp, Sardines with Brocciu (Corsican cheese), Rouget fish with crushed Almonds and Salicorne (sea beans), and Asparagus with a Poached Egg and and Trout Roe. It was torture, so many interesting and original offerings, the likes of Zucchini with Rhubarb and Caviar or Tuna Bresaola with Cauliflower.
Clamato also has plenty of raw bar offerings. There’s Maldon oysters, Utah Beach and Cherrystone clams. But my favorite by far was the live Langoustine, sliced in half and seasoned with nothing more than olive oil, salt and pepper. Heaven. And a welcome relief from all the rich sauces and foams I’d been making my way through on my trip. The Turbot Sashimi was a beautiful specimen of fish, delicate and sweet, layered with greens and a French lemon of sorts, olive oil, salt and pepper. But the tour de force were the Razor Clams. Now, I’ve had snails a la persillade (with garlic, butter and parsley), but this is Clamato’s to-die-for take, swapping in razor clams cooked on la plancha, anointed with oodles of parsley and butter, and a crumble of marcona almonds for crunch.
I almost skipped dessert. As I mentioned, I was trying to eat light. But I felt it my foodie duty to try something sweet, so I ordered the Gariguette Strawberries with Grapefruit, Sweet Bread Croutons, Creme Fraiche made in-house that day, and crowned with honey and dusted with acacia flowers.
I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but food is sometimes so complex and heavy in France. It’s refreshing to discover a spot that’s relatively simple, and yet undeniably creative and ambitious.