Thursday, February 27, 2014


Choosing The Clam was the ultimate example of following the chef.  I was, as I always am,  bequeathed the single-handed responsibility of choosing the restaurant, as is too often the case. Day-of, at five pm on a Saturday night: less than ideal.  My to-be dining companion was of absolutely no help whatsoever (his only contribution was suggesting a no-name Taiwanese-Mexican fusion conveniently located in Greenpoint??...) , so I finally remembered to follow my own advice, recalling chef Mikey Price of Market Table had recently opened a new joint down in the nether West Village.  And not only that, chef Joey Campanaro of The Little Owl has his hand in it as well... so technically I followed TWO chefs there, chefs I love.  Located close to both,  The Clam opened up about a month ago.  Like its siblings, its a sweet, cozy neighborhood kind of place, featuring not just  the freshest seasonal and market-driven resources of the Atlantic seaboard, but  focusing specifically on clams- one of Price's favorite ingredients.   But not to worry: the menu isn't exclusively clam-centric.  There is quite enough diversity in the menu to please the masses, and everything is masterfully executed.

The pearlescent ceiling.
Pearls come from oysters, I know, not clams- but the slightly convex ceilings tiled in luminous mother-of-pearl perpetuate the nautical theme, and give the room a soft glow reflecting the brightness of the open kitchen and the abundant candles flickering from
Fancy Clam Chowder
 tabletops.  There's a lot of light exuding from the kitchen as well, in addition to finery which it is concocting within.  There is, predictably, an impressive raw bar which offers up seasonal delicacies like whichever oysters are at their peak, or, befittingly, littleneck clams "on the halfie."  Clams are a component of a third of the menu entries, from a rich, snacky little dip to an entree-worthy spaghetti & clams topped with spicy gravy and sided with salad.  There's a luxurious clam chowder, served in a
wide, shallow bowl featuring two humongous in-shell clams in a silky-rich broth, plus more clams and tender chunked potatoes floating within.

 Not to constrain ourselves strictly to seafood, I chose a dish of roasted carrots from the seasonal vegetables menu, which made for a brilliant starter salad .  A butter lettuce salad with cheddar, apples and pumpernickel is listed on the appetizers menu, but these seemed more up my alley.  And they were- a rainbow of roots roasted tender and wallowing in a thick, spiced labne sprinkled with toasty pumpkin seeds.  I thought Daniel Humm had the Midas touch with carrots, but Chef Price is giving him a run for his money.

Aside from roasted Bell & Evans half chicken, whose accompanying hot lettuce with hen of the woods and radishes almost made me order it, the entrees are purely ocean-derived.  My Block Island swordfish retained it signature meatiness which is normally achieved on the grill, but the heavy golden crust belied its treatment from a searingly hot flattop- that, and a generous dose of fat.  Oh, but it came to a marvelous end, the bronzed exterior

 yielding to its flavorfully firm flesh, a bed of anchovy-tinged lacinato kale enriched with daubs of smooth Meyer lemon aioli.  Not to be outdone, a whole winter flounder boasted its own crisped skin, a pretty substantially sized fish, stretching the length of the plate atop a slurry of beluga lentils and roasted butternut squash anointed with a nutty, herbal pistachio pesto.    Speaking of nuts, there were an absolute blizzard of them in the roasted brussels sprouts with chunky bacon, so much so that the uneaten remainder would've amounted to a legitimate bar snack.  I'm not sure, either, what they were doing in there to begin

with, but they neither detracted substantially nor enhanced the sprouts, easily extricable as they were.  Eaten with a fork, they were sort of hard to impale, anyways, so the amount that made it into alternating bites was enough.  The dish would probably be better off without them, for a worthy, bacony roast of sprouts they were.

Capping things off, I wish I would've gone for our charming and attentive bartender's (who doubled as our waiter, eating at the bar as we were) recommendation of the chocolate and banana cream pie, but not being so much of a chocolate person, I went for the the apple & cranberry crisp.  It was good, without too much cranberry, and the perfect proportion of nutty almond crumble atop, but it wouldn't win many awards.  Maybe the island coconut lime bread pudding, with minted pineapple and rum creme anglaise to shake off the winter blues?   In all other respects, The Clam certainly makes strides to do just that.  The amicable service, the cozy environs, and the substantially nourishing fare all come together kind of like a big hug.  Which isn't something you'd necessarily expect from a Clam, but Price's food goes a good stride beyond expectations.

420 hudson street ny, ny 10014  212.242.7420 f. 212.242.8420

Saturday, February 8, 2014


It speaks realms as to how good Uncle Boon's  is for catapulting me out of the sour mood I amassed waiting for table... or actually more precisely waiting for my friend that made it so that we had to wait for a table.  And honestly, the wait wasn't that long, but since they do not (understandably) seat incomplete parties, waiting for my tardy second half  (who had disconcertingly left for the restaurant before I did) mounted my irritation.  There're no reservations at Uncle Boon's, but that should not give you reservations about going.  Head in on the early side of things and you can circumvent too extenuated of a wait- although they'll prove your wait worth your while in the end.

Dark and cavernous, the room was already bustling by seven, but there were tables to be had.  Had my  dining companion exhibited any sort of punctuality, we would have been seated instantaneously.  Instead, we suffered a bit of a wait: there is the option of giving your number to the receptionist and while away your time at Sweet & Vicious next door, if that's up your alley.  Otherwise, we stood outside in the refreshing briskness until it got a little too brisk, and then transferred inside for the remainder to join the bump and grind of the vivacious bar scene.  Our fifteen minutes passed and the receptionist notified us that after another ten our table would be ready, then ushered us into a cozy back room (watch your head on that chandelier) and into a comfortable crimson leather booth.

Even longer longer than the wait to be seated was the amount of time it took to decide what to order: pretty much everything looks outstanding.  We decided on a few dishes, figuring we could always add more.  But the one thing that really bugged me is that in the small-plates dining format, one dish should not have to sing
 acapella in wait for something else to come out and accompany it.  Some stellar grilled baby octopus arrived first, but five simple cephalopods on a plate seemed a little stark.  They were immaculate, to be sure, their bulbous heads tender, but inflected with the beachy char that incinerated their delicate tendrils to a crispy end.  All the "Charcoal Grilled Goodies" are served with a bright lime, chile and garlic dipping sauce that would taste good on pretty much everything except maybe chocolate mousse.  But they were lonely, and it took forever for more of our orders to arrive, which was a serious demerit in my
 book.   After a spell, we were bequeathed a deceptively beige dish of traditional crab fried rice, that seemed less fried than a moist and pliant pilaf, rife with enormous chunks of mild crab meat and scented with lime and generous tufts of cilantro.  Cilantro is Boon's parsley: it's on pretty much everything and improves pretty much everything.  Although the crispy duck leg in soy anise broth was hard to improve upon.  Duck, not being my favorite protein, was lean and fall-off-the-bone tender, and the broth was so profoundly delicious it begged for a more efficient method of consumption, but we made due with the wide

 soup spoons.  I also had to wonder why more things don't use duck broth, although the flavor was decidedly richer and deeper than ubiquitous chicken broth.  Caramelized tangerine added a toasty, sweet tang to its umami-richness.

Sauteed water spinach with garlic, yellow soybeans and chilies made a fantastic counter to the fried rice, although it arrived halfway after we were done with it.  You get a lot of it as a side
dish, easily shareable by two if not more, which might be deceptive from its price tag of six dollars.  Alternatively, broiled bay scallops in a chuu chee sauce screamed out for plain white rice, its creamy, coconut-thickened curry tamping the intensity of its fire, but once it came forth, it came on like a

 bulldozer.  Spicy water spinach isn't the best counter for its forceful heat, but we hardly needed to order rice with the abudance of comestables already on the table.... except for that strangely enough, we weren't really unthinkably full.  In fact, as the scallops arrived, my companion (not such a fan of their spiciness) decided he still had room for another dish, and we couldn't resist the crispy skate, given its designation as a Traditional Celebratory Food.  Uncles Boon's does feel like a celebration.  Although it took so long for the skate to arrive that the rest of our vittles finally hit their destination, and we were hardly hungry enough to even make a dent in the ruthlesslessly funky concoction.  The wild ginger sauce, bean sprouts and herbs were overshadowed by pungent fermented cabbage and a tangle of miniscule, potent baby mackerels, with their crooked little inch-long bodies and macabre, jaw-dominated heads, although they were conveniently cordoned off to the side in order to be able to nudge them into forkfuls to taste (for which mine needed little).  Slithery rice noodles buoyed the fish above the brashly seasoned broth.

 tangy and pungent in that mysteriously briney Southeast Asian fashion, garnished with a halved, hard-cooked egg whose yolk was almost candied to a brilliant yellow.  I'm not sure what this dish celebrates, but its no typical American holiday.  It's exotic and foreign, like the pagan roots of Halloween.  Intriguing and tantalizing, if not necessarily something you'd want to eat every day.

As for dessert, on the other hand, the warm, bruleed tapioca pudding IS something I could imagine consuming daily- or at least frequently.  I'm not sure I've ever had a warm tapioca, and this treatment with its candied brown-sugar crust contrasted an earthy, porridge-y flavor, enhanced by a smattering of fresh, ruby pomegranate seeds.  A slightly less sweet version would be a respectable breakfast, and we had stayed so long it was about to become that.  Boon's is a fooderati's hotspot, but it retains a homey coziness above all that buzz: literally, a boon on all fronts.

      7 Spring Street 
      tel. 1(646) 370-6650

Monday, February 3, 2014


Fourth Avenue is that terse, practically unknown, peculiarly abbreviated street that, while relatively obscure, is pretty easy enough to find.  Which is how we ended up there, having struck out at Calliope (closed for a private event) and Kyo Ya (fully booked for the next two hours), so The Fourth presented itself conveniently enough.  A new-ish new American situated in the Hyatt Hotel, it holds more in common with hotel dining, its cuisine is about as innovative as is naming a restaurant after the street it is on.  It even welcomes you with a suspended sculpture of several bed frames hanging from the ceiling, which is kinda cool, but doesn't let you forget that this is, in fact, still hotel dining.    Not that that's all bad: elementally, sourcing is strong and the food is serviceable, but for some unfortunate components in each and every dish we tried.  I was perhaps misled by its association with Tocqueville and 5 Ninth, two reputable and superior institutions run by the same proprietors.

The emptiness of the room at primetime on a weekend night did tamp my expectations a bit, though.  The food presented itself in fits and starts:  a beet salad was quite lovely, the flavorful, jewel-toned vegetables rustically retaining their long roots untrimmed, tangled up with arcs of crisp shaved fennel and a sprinkle of pistachios, but the harsh bite of watercress distracted from its platemates.  A mini baguette served aside had seen fresher days, its leaden crust so sturdy it took effort just to break it in two.  We may have been better off with the wedding soup, adorned unexpectedly with a soft poached egg, or the crisp baby artichoke with cheese fonduta.

But my hearth Roasted Branzino came with artichokes barigoule... except for that that wasn't anything at all barigoule about the 'chokes.  They were unseasoned, un-braised, un-anythinged but simply roasted.  Although the slab of fennel aside that showed up unnanounced was nicely braised, it was tainted by a slightly acrid sluice of pureed black olive, which, although mentioned on the menu, had nothing to do with barigoule, nor did it help make sense of the disparate ingredients, including shavings of more raw fennel and carrot ... although perhaps that was where they were re-imagining the barigoule, as carrots are a normal component of that technique.    Instead, they played alone on the periphery of the plate like an outcast toddler in the sandbox.    I hesitated momentarily before tucking in in hopes of a tableside addition of
some sort of broth or sauce or something to tie all the incongruous components together, but alas. The sauce with the char served as a detriment as well, far too horseradishy for its own good, although the gorgeously verdant mustard green puree it domineered made the dish visually spectacular with its sultry stew of black lentils.  A bacon-mustard vinaigrette was flavorful enough to render the green sauce unnecessary, anyways, so it was an unfortunate, detracting addition.

The Fourth Burger on the menu seemed like it was aspiring toward novelty with its roasted tomato bun: we imagined up several hypotheses of how this might be executed, from a tomato-pink bread dough , to an actual whole-roasted tomato, sliced in two in an Atkins-style carbophobic bait-and-switch.  Alas, it turned out to be simply a bun, flecked with bits of sundried tomato.  The burger's attraction is probably more reliant on it poached egg as a topping.  It's served with pickled veggies, so if you Want Fried with That, you'll have to go with a side of duck fat fried potatoes.  We went with the

crispy brussels sprouts, which were, as is so often the case, not crispy in the least, although the hunky chunks of thick-cut bacon were.  The sprouts showed up with tiny fingerling potatoes  that were,

 despite their diminutive size, bigger than the brussels, and I think actually there were more of them, too.   All together, with sauteed shallots and a mysteriously rich mayonnaisey kind of sauce, they were two-bite yummy, but whole-portion excessive.

Desserts illustrated a slight uptick, but mostly just 'cause sugary, buttery, fruity things are yummy.  Migliorelli Farms provided the apple for a Fuji apple crisp, which swayed me towards that choice, but it was a tough decision between the rice pudding with dulce de leche or a citrus olive oil cake with yuzu. The crisp was anything but crisp, however, although the abundant toasted almonds added a nice, nutty crunch, the only evidence of any sort of "crisp" was a pulverized pie crust powder lightly dusted atop the really, juicy chunks of apples, more stewed than caramelized.  Thus, daubs from  a luscious scoop of caramel ice cream banished to a spoon forkfuls away from the main affair (much like the carrot-

fennel salad) imparted the only real caramel element.  Their prolific juices pooled in the bottom of the bowl with no crumb to soak them up, resulting in a kind of spiced apple broth.  I guess the excess liquid was good, because the decaf coffee I ordered with dessert still hadn't arrived as we were midway through, and so I cancelled it (I like my after-dinner coffee WITH dessert, not my after-dessert coffee with nothing).  They seemed surprised at the
rejection, but hopefully they'll use it as a learning tool.  Just having vintage pictures of proudly beaming waitresses does not in itself good service make.  With a little coaching and effort this place could be a LOT better- it's certainly not totally a lost cause.  Even if you do get a little lost finding Fourth Avenue.

132 Fourth Ave

212 432-1324