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ZZ’s Clam Bar: Not Your Typical Raw Bar

July 8, 2013

What do we love more than a line (as witnessed in the still unbelievably long lines daily for cronuts)?  A place with a bouncer to keep the crowd away and to give the place a sense of exclusivity.   It does lend the restaurant a certain cache for better or worse and that is what the guys at Torrisi’s decided to create for their newest addition, ZZ’s Clam Bar.  This was by far the smallest restaurant in Torrisi collection but the amount of personality that it has to share with New York is on the other end of the spectrum.

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Once inside, it seems as if the noise of Houston dissipates into thin air and we are whisked away to a world that only really exists in the imagination of the team at Torrisi.  The dimly lit room with black and white checkered floor only has 12 seats surrounding a dark leather booth banquet and antique arm chairs.  A tiny bar in the back is where the bartender, sporting a bow tie tuxedo and shorts, combo is surrounded by all sorts of ingredients that go into making many of the specialty cocktails that ZZ’s offers, fresh pineapples and coconuts included.

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Before we even have the chance to fully digest the dense albeit short menu, a little amuse bouche with crab appear on a pedestal.  One bite to start our meal here off on the right footing.

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I couldn’t resist the pineapple cocktail made with American gin, limoncello and chamomile.  The drink arrives at the table in a beautifully frosted gold pineapple vessel.  The mix of the alcohols is worthwhile and refreshing even if you aren’t like me and think that the visual impact of the drink alone was exciting enough.

The food menu at ZZ’s consists of crudos and raw seafood dishes with some decadent ingredients here and there.  Caviar, foie gras and langoustine anyone?  Of course, what makes the dishes here exotic are not only the fancy ingredients but some of the flavor pairings as well.  We order a selection of dishes and they arrive to our table in a surprising order, keeping us guessing what will be up next.

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First up is the live scallop with Sicilian pistachio and brown butter.  Thinly sliced sweet scallops are topped with drizzles of rich brown butter and crushed pistachios.  HH and I both felt that the dish needed a little acid to perk up the flavors.

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Next, we are presented with the langoustine ceviche with a serrano chile and claw emulsion.  These tiny little bites are nestled in a spicy and tangy sauce that made us perk up and pay attention.  Despite how sharp the sauce was, it does not take away at all from the simplistic sweetness of the langoustine.

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After the langoustines, we move onto something a little more substantial.  ZZ’s Clam Bar offers three toasts, a tuna, a beef and an uni.  Of course, HH and I just have to go with our hearts and stomach’s desire and order the uni toast.  The sweet velvety uni come two pieces to an order and are served on top of a slightly warm toasted pretzel toast.  We close our eyes and savor every single bite.

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We move back to the crudos with cherry trout and trout roe with fried leeks.  Eaten separately, the trout lacks flavor but the magic happens when I carefully combine some of the tiny roe and trout with leeks in one bite.  The salinity of the roe bursts atop the delicate trout and the leeks add a little texture.

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Up next is a beautifully presented dish of kanpachi tartare.  A simple disk is topped with a tender oyster, sweet shallots, broccoli florets and shreds of broccoli stems.  The broccoli stems seem to have been lightly pickled and the tartness balances out the sweet shallots and the crunch the smooth and light kanpachi.

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We both have a little more room left and instead of dessert, we agree to try one more dish.  Having seen quite a few plates of the cured salmon go to the other tables, the choice is pretty easy.  The cured Scottish salmon is served with honey mustard, dill and a few disks of buttered toast.  A kind of build your own fancy lox and bagel if you will.

The end of our meal at ZZ’s comes at our own pace.  There was no hurry for us to leave this dark secluded world that they have created.  Well, this is for certain – ZZ’s Clam Bar is something quite special, definitely not your typical raw bar.  It has a personality that is so much bigger than its little nook on the corner of Houston and Thompson, whether it’s the food, cocktails or the decor.  While ZZ’s might not be somewhere you can drop by on any regular night, a trip is worth while when you are in the mood for something a little out of the ordinary.

ZZ’s Clam Bar | 169 Thompson St, New York, 10012 | http://www.zzsclambar.com/

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