Dig This: The Best Varieties of Clams + the Delicious Ways Restaurants Are Serving Them This Summer

In the broadest of terms, a clam is a bivalve mollusk with two hard shells that protect the edible, sweet yet briny, exquisite yet simple, meat within. Found in most coastal areas throughout the world, clams are both a reliable dietary staple and a treasured delicacy. Served raw, baked, fried, poached, roasted, steamed, or in chowders, sauces, or stews, the versatility and relative plenitude of clams render them an indispensable seafood pick with chefs from coast to coast. Our seafood markets are brimming with a number of varieties of clams, some wild, some farmed, and all infinitely tasty. Here are the best varieties of clams and the delicious ways restaurants are serving them this summer!

Atlantic Hard Shell Clams at The Clam, New York, New York
Atlantic hard shell clams (Mercenaria mercenaria), also known as quahogs (pronounced coe-hog), are the quintessential east coast clam. Quahogs are graded by size, with littlenecks being the smallest (approximately 10-12 clams per pound), followed by top necks (6-10 per pound), cherrystones (3-4 per pound) and chowders (1-2 per pound). The Clam serves up its favorite and eponymous ingredient in a number of expected, and unexpected, dishes: littlenecks on the half shell, clam dip with zesty potato chips, clam and lobster sliders, and grilled white clam pizza, to name just a few.

clam and lobster sliders blog the clam nyc copy

Soft Shell Clams at Island Creek Oyster Bar, Boston, Massachusetts
Soft shell clams (Mya arenaria) are also popularly called steamers, piss clams, longnecks, or Ipswich clams and are native to our northeast coast. The soft shell name is a bit of a misnomer as the shells are more brittle than soft. Soft shell clams are more oblong in shape than hard shell clams and are distinguished by a long protruding siphon, which the clam uses to both feed and filter the water. A bowl of steamers dipped in melted butter is one of the purest joys of a New England summer, and Island Creek Oyster Bar does not disappoint with its Ipswich steamers served with crusty bread for sopping up the every last drop of clammy goodness. [Photo by Michael Harlan Turkell]

steamer from island creek oyster bar_blog sizing michael harlan turkel copy

Razor Clams at Saxon + Parole, New York, New York
Razor clams, shaped like old-fashioned straight razors, are found both on the east and west coasts. East coast razors (Ensis directus) are known as Atlantic jackknife clams. West coast razors (Siliqua patua) are known as Pacific razor clams and are slightly more oval-shaped than their east coast cousin. Prized in Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Korean cuisines, razor clams are now finding their way onto non-Asian menus on both coasts. At Saxon + Parole, chef Brad Farmerie creates razor clam magic by combining steamed razors and egg salad, served with caviar and grilled bread. Brunch will never be the same.

razor clam egg salad blog sizing from saxon and parole copyContinue Reading

Five Things Diners Do That Drive Restaurant Workers Crazy #hackdining

Chefs Preapring Food TogetherMost seasoned diners know that a refined restaurant experience is much more than just the act of serving you good food on a plate. It’s a hospitality business in every sense. The passionate restaurateur yearns for their customers to have a wonderful experience — not just so you’ll come back and tell your friends about it — but because, quite frankly, it’s part of their DNA. Chefs, in particular, crave approval and desperately want to make you happy. It’s a big part of why they went into this trying business. (It certainly wasn’t for the money.) Running a restaurant is about as hard a job as it gets.

So is the customer always right? Does anything go? Well, yes and…no. While a top-notch restaurant should bend over backwards to accommodate its guests, the reality is that the relationship ought to, in fact, be a bit of two-way street — so everybody can win.

With a bit of background into the creative and operational process of running a restaurant based on personal experience and recent interviews with several chefs who wish to remain anonymous, here are five things diners do that drive restaurant workers crazy.

Incomplete parties: Restaurants essentially make their money much the same way airlines do: they sell time in their seats. This is perishable inventory, only with fine dining and expensive ingredients in the fridge, even more so. The equation is simple: available tables x minutes the restaurant is open x cost of the items you order. There are precious few minutes each day when a restaurant must earn all its money, so every minute a table or individual seat sits idle, that is revenue that’s gone forever. So, when your party is incomplete and the server sometimes doesn’t seat you, understand there is a method to the madness.
Advice: Try to arrive together and on time, be a bit patient if you’re not, and ALWAYS let the restaurant know if you need to cancel as soon as possible so they don’t lose an opportunity to fill the table. And, please never no-show for your reservation.

Table breaks: The process of preparing and serving a variety of menu items for a large table can be a choreographic miracle. In sophisticated kitchens, there literally can be dozens of cooks working on one meal to simultaneously ensure that the poached egg atop of your crisp frisée salad is deliciously runny at the same time that your date’s fettuccine is perfectly al dente. The chef acts as the kitchen’s conductor, making sure everything is in synch and just right. When a server cues that you are, say, getting close to finishing your appetizer, this culinary orchestra jumps into motion in order to send out all the various plates at the same time and at the exact right preparation and temperature. Keep that in mind when you wander out to take a 20 minute phone call mid-meal. It can throw the kitchen into a tizzy as they try and keep your various dishes at the right temperature while trying to guess when you might return.
Advice: If you must leave the table mid-meal, let the server or host know — or wait to slip out until the food has come, if possible.

Modifications: A great dish — even a good one — is a calibration of texture, temperature, and ingredients, especially flavors like salt, acid, and fat. This process doesn’t happen by chance. It’s often the result of methodical, creative experimentation and refinement to get that balance precisely right. Asking the server to take an ingredient out of a dish is akin to sawing the leg off a table – the whole thing can “tip” over and all that hard work goes out the window. A number of chefs I’ve spoken with complained that it drives them nuts when customers arbitrarily eliminate a component, ask for it on the side, or – the worst form of insult – request to substitute something else entirely. The main worry is that when you remove an ingredient, the dish no longer tastes the way it was intended, and the experience (and their vision) is seriously diminished.
Advice: If it’s an actual allergy, you’d do best to order something else. If it’s an aversion, ask your server to guide you to a dish that has all the flavors you enjoy most.Continue Reading

Scenes from the OpenTable Aspen Food & Wine Classic Champagne + Sushi Party #FWClassic

The 2015 Aspen Food & Wine Classic was held this past weekend, and OpenTable was there to help celebrate the best in food and wine as curated by our friends at Food & Wine magazine. Since no celebration would be complete without bubbles, we were pleased to host our second annual Champagne-centric soiree at Matushisa Aspen with famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa. ICYMI, we present a few scenes from the OpenTable Aspen Food & Wine Classic Champagne + Sushi party.

Chef Nobu Blog Copy Matsu Party  (75 of 144) copy

Chef Nobu was in the house, which makes sense because he owns it, as was OpenTable’s Leela Srinivasan.

Sushi Blog Size Matsu Party  (29 of 144) copy

There was sushi, obviously.

Eric Ripert Blog Size Matsu Party  (58 of 144) copy

And chef Eric Ripert, too.

Lots of People Blog Copy Matsu Party  (78 of 144) copy

There were a lot of other fun food + wine people there also, but the Champagne never ran dry despite our efforts.

Krug Waterfalls Blog Matsu Party  (42 of 144) copy

PSA: Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls — unless they’re Krug waterfalls. Then by all means…

Dana Cowin Blog Size Matsu Party  (135 of 144) copy

It’s not a Food & Wine party without the mag’s editor-in-chief Dana Cowin and Maria Sinskey of Sinskey Winery (Do you see what I did there?).Continue Reading

Nine Stunning Summer Restaurant Menus Showcasing the Season’s Bounty

Summertime and livin’ is easy. Farmers markets overflow with a rainbow of just-harvested vegetables, fruits, and herbs, while fishermen haul in seasonal specialties. For chefs, this wealth of freshness is a bonanza that they look forward to all year long. You can practically hear them rubbing their hands with glee when it starts flooding into their kitchens. To highlight the best of the sunny season, we rounded up nine stunning summer restaurant menus.

Bouchon, Beverly Hills, California
Thomas Keller presents French favorites crafted with farm fresh produce. Roasted chicken comes with a ragout of summer pole beans and sweet corn, artichokes pair with a pan-seared swordfish, and a radiant apricot tart leads the new dessert offerings. C’est magnifique!

Bouchon SaladeNicoise2 blog copy

Charlie Palmer Steak, Washington, D.C.
When he’s not in the kitchen, executive chef Jeffrey Russell spends time tending his garden plot across the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia. The vegetables and herbs he cultivates there become a part of his four-course tasting dinners, which change weekly. The initial menu features a baby butter lettuce salad filled out with cukes, carrots, and bronze fennel and teres major steak accompanied by braised Swiss chard and charred Vidalia onions.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 9.37.10 AM

 

Chefs Club by Food & Wine, New York City
If restaurants were movies, this one would be The Avengers. A rotating, all-star cast of contributors presents a seasonally inspired menu, which currently includes a watercress-jalapeno-watermelon salad from chef Michelle Bernstein and lobster cannelloni from chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado. Sounds like a blockbuster to us.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 9.40.48 AM

Lincoln Ristorante, New York, New York
For his latest menu, executive chef Jonathan Benno found inspiration in traditional Sardinian cuisine. Standout dishes include a burrata orb graced with strawberries and pickled ramps, brown butter sautéed morels sit atop ricotta-pea pocketed ravioli, and a mélange of spinach and red dandelion greens are gussied up with briny bottarga, chili, and garlic. Best of all: you don’t have to buy a plane ticket to enjoy this authentic taste of the Mediterranean isle.Continue Reading