Jack Hanley finds the mollusks and crustaceans tasty but heavy going at The Clam, and is riveted by the view
Some restaurants are worth going to just for the people watching. The buzz around The Clam – Mike Price’s handsome new seafood restaurant in the West Village – suggests that people aren’t packing it out just to stare out of its vast corner windows. But I spent most of my meal with my eyes off the table, and on the sidewalk. This is dinner as theatre. Come, dine alone – you won’t fiddle with Facebook, or any similar but bawdier networking apps you may have loaded on your phone, for a second.
The Clam is bright and sparse, with bare brick walls and a tiled pearlescent ceiling with recurrent curves that chime with the idea of clam and oyster shells. Though its surfaces are hard, this is a lovely casual date night scene.
Outside, Hudson Street is a procession of the most luxuriously groomed pedigree dogs as well as women in tight Lycra, emerging still stretching (or is it twerking?) from the Equinox gym across the block, and gargantuan fat men that seem to defy the laws of physics as well as any medical advice that might keep their arteries free flowing. Just as Thin Lizzy burst into life on the restaurant stereo, the most wonderful couple of women, well past a certain age, passed by – their hair the extraordinary colour combination of tropical birds’ plumage, and their outfits layer upon layer of clashing pink and green. A pair of matching, incandescently white huskies completed the look.
A woman in her sixties had had such a Proustian madeleine moment over the Parker House rolls at The Clam a few weeks before that she broke down and cried at her table
So far so scenic, and so New York City. So what of The Clam inside? Well, the menu at The Clam is big on… clams. There are littleneck clams with cocktail sauce on the “iced delicacies” intro to the menu; a clam dip; spaghetti and clams; steamed littlenecks; clam chowder… You get the picture.
While the look of the room and a brief glimpse at the menu suggests that this is somewhere you can waltz in and leave feeling nourished but lighter than air on one of your 5:2 fasting days, you can forget it. The Clam is heavy. This is dude seafood. Come starving, embrace the carbs and lap up the fats: by all means order the raw scallops with rhubarb and hazelnuts (and you must – it’s a fantastic combination of flavours and textures, even if the rhubarb would benefit from being greater in quantity), but the standout dishes include a fried belly clam and lobster sandwich in a griddled bun with fries; it gives the lardiest burger in town a run for its money. And the crispy jumbo softshell crab with fennel and cabbage slaw is a might morsel of oil. The food at The Clam is all lush, and fairly faultless. But diet food this is not.
Skimp on nothing. For all the fancy flounders with beluga lentils and rich tasting Oysters Rockefeller with onions and absinthe soaked cracker crumbs, the best thing you’ll eat at The Clam is the Parker House roll that comes before your appetizer lands. I’ll come here again just for these babies. They make the most buttery brioche taste dairy free and anemic. With so many kitchens vying to offer the bread basket most likely to break the determinedly carb-free, The Clam wins hands down. Apparently a woman in her sixties had had such a Proustian madeleine moment over the Parker House rolls at The Clam a few weeks before that she broke down and cried at her table. It transported her straight back to her mother’s kitchen, fifty years before.
I wonder if she had the bread pudding to finish. They make it with the leftover Porter House rolls. It’s fantastic. But like most of the menu at The Clam, light it ain’t. Skip lunch and go. C
The Clam, 420 Hudson Street, New York 10014
+212 242 7420; theclamnyc.com