The Clam’s Spaghetti & Clams
There’s nothing worse than a great, new neighborhood restaurant that opens in someone else’s neighborhood. That always happens to me. And it happened again just two weeks ago when The Clam quietly flung open its doors in the West Village (right near another great newcomer, Piora). They had me at a Parker House roll, individually baked for every diner, warm, pillowy — a fresh from the oven welcome. If you had any doubts about what’s on the menu exactly, chowder’s muse is indeed the inspiration.
How did no one come up with a clam-centric eatery in New York before? Seriously. It’s such a simple restaurant concept, and yet so many wonderful dishes are inspired by the mighty mollusk. Steamers. Raw Clams. Baked Clams. Clam Chowder. Clam Roll. While you can find all of the above at various restaurants around the city, you can’t find all of them under one roof. And I dare say, you won’t find a bowl of Spaghetti & Clams as terrific as the one at The Clam. Chef & co-owner Mike Price’s rendition is a tangy tangle of spaghetti, dosed with chili flake-tinged tomato gravy, chopped surf & topneck clams, and littlenecks in the shell. The crowning touch is an ingenious one – a melange of arugula, frisee, and scallion in a lemon vinaigrette — a perfectly peppery complement to a classic, Italian comfort food.
If it’s comfort food you’re craving this unbearably cold winter (I know I am), you’d be wise to try Price’s Clam Fried Rice, too. It’s every bit as gratifying as great, take-out Chinese, except it’s gussied up with a flurry of flavors, including pork belly confit, chopped onions, clams, and water chestnuts, then topped with julienned egg omelette and shaved bottarga, teasing maximum brininess from the clams. Lest I forget the Clam Dip, a creamy, criminally bad for you mix of top neck clams, sour cream, Worcestershire and cayenne, accompanied by Old Bay-spiced Potato Chips. Or the Cherrystone Stuffies, for that matter, a riff on Clams Casino, stuffed & baked with pancetta, breadcrumbs, onion, red pepper, and celery.
You know how nearly every restaurant’s got a Roast Chicken on the menu these days? The Clam does, too, but it would be a travesty to order it with so many dishes you can’t find anywhere else. Personally, I’ve always preferred Manhattan Clam Chowder to New England, but Mike Price’s version is one elegant, atypically light bowl, flavored with white wine, garlic, thyme, leeks, littleneck clams, and a dash of cream. If you’re the steamer type, The Clam’s Steamed Littlenecks are to-die-for, served in their own broth, with two crusty hunks of baguette, slathered with an herbaceous mix of tarragon, garlic, and basil that would make almost anything taste better.
Chilled King Crab
Oh and if you don’t like clams, there are other things on the menu. Ironically, one of my favorite dishes is an appetizer of Scallop Crudo, uniquely scattered with nibbles of pear, hazelnuts, chives, and lime. While the Butter Lettuce Salad with Pumpernickel Bagel Chips and White Cheddar is fine, your time would be better spent on the Sliced Duck Breast, partnered with blood orange and palm hearts, and an entree of Winter Flounder, a wondrously fresh, whole fish, served over Bacon-studded Beluga Lentils with a Pistachio Pesto. And definitely get a side (or two) of Creamed Kale. To be honest, I’m so over kale salads, but Creamed Kale with Cipollini Onions? A genius, new steakhouse side.
There’s a lot to be charmed by, particularly the wine list, which is super interesting and super affordable. I discovered a fantastic 2012 Foresti I Soli Pigato, a highly aromatic and citrusy Ligurian wine, so good I ordered a case the next morning. Another dangerously drinkable offering was the 2011 Skerlj Malvasia, another zippy Italian white. The Clam is the kind of restaurant you’d walk by, peer in the window, and wish you were sitting inside. It’s cozy, romantic, and yet entirely approachable, furbished with exposed brick walls, large windows onto the West Village, and arched ceilings, covered in mother of pearl to mimic the inside of a clam shell (of course). Co-owners Joey Campanaro & Mike Price have a knack for opening irresistible neighborhood restaurants. I just wish they would open one in mine.
Until we eat again,