It could be a couple of perfect clams with a squirt of lemon chased with gulps of dark beer. Or a gleaming tower of oysters and lobster, which goes down very nicely with half a bottle of Champagne (per person, naturally).
At every level, and at almost any time of the day, we love the simplicity of the raw bar. We like to see oysters, always, but we know how to enjoy the hell out humbler seafood, like mussels or whelks. And on a hot summer's day, nothing beats the unfussy pleasures of chilled seafood.
① Navy, Soho
Cocktail hour at Camille Becerra's gem of a restaurant is especially lovely when the chef is working the raw bar up front, cracking oysters to order. There are usually only two to three kinds going a night, but we always dig the selection—recently firm, creamy Sunset Beach and clean, sharp little Wellfleets—and attention to detail.
② The John Dory Oyster Bar, Flatiron
April Bloomfield's gleaming tiled dining room in The Ace Hotel serves the usual suspects, like a gorgeous poached-then-chilled lobster—this one comes with a hardcore vinaigrette made from the lobster's green-tinged brains ($18). If you're feeling really adventurous, try whelks ($8), the bouncy little sea snails that look fairly terrible but taste delicious when they're dipped in garlic butter.
③ Pearl Oyster Bar, West Village
Rebecca Charles and her crew have been opening oysters on Cornelia Street for 17 years, way before the new wave of raw bars rolled into town. The low-key restaurant is most famous for Maine-style lobster rolls, which are superb, but don't forget about the classic shrimp cocktails and oysters (6 for $14).
④ ZZ's Clam Bar, Greenwich Village
Get past the bouncer at the door of this tiny, indulgent 12-seat bar and you'll find that even the toast is exquisite. Hear us out! Each tiny bite is loaded with stunning deep red trout roe, truffle honey and black truffles, and along with everything else here, it's so luxurious and exquisite that the enormous price tag ($30) actually seems worth it.
⑤ Balthazar, Soho
Keith McNally's French dining room is a classic destination for New York's chilled seafood enthusiasts, who should definitely splurge on Le Balthazar ($170), a giant three-tiered plateau de fruits de mer that involves a whole lobster, just-been-shucked oysters and clams, fresh ceviche, shrimp and even a few snails.
⑥ Aquagrill, Soho
This classic raw bar has been shucking since 1996, and it's still a fantastic place to belly up to the bar to try as many oysters as you can (especially during happy hour when they go for $1 a piece). There's a lovely mix of East and West Coast beauties, along with daily specials that occasionally include periwinkles—tiny snails rarely seen on menus in NYC.
⑦ Grand Banks, Tribeca
There's something magical about slurping oysters aboard a 142-foot fishing schooner as the sun sets on the Hudson. Visit this floating bar after work for a dozen Black Duck Salts from Virginia ($3.40 each) and a glass of Renardat-Fâche ($14) sparkling rosé and it'll feel like you're sailing away from the city, even though the Sherman Zwicker is staying put at Pier 25 all summer long.
⑧ Maison Premiere, Williamsburg
This Brooklyn restaurant has the feel of an old New Orleans bar and one of the finest oyster selections in town—over 30 varieties ($2.50 to 3.25) and the stylish staff is committed to fast and careful shucking at the elegant bar. Pull up a stool at the counter, order a julep and go to town.
⑨ Marlow & Sons, Williamsburg
Check the blackboard for the day's oyster selection and know this: If it's there, it's probably from the East Coast and it's almost certainly delicious. The raw bar's tiny, but it's one of the best ways to start a meal.
⑩ The NoMad, Flatiron
You won't need to crack any claws or work hard to pick meat when Daniel Humm's seafood platter ($26) lands. Behold the composition of exquisitely composed bites—crab dressed and placed on a sliver of shell, scallop with yuzu and pistachios and other delightful little surprises.