Like a flashy, briny gangster, the oyster runs this town. So it's a pleasure to visit Mike Price's tiny new joint in the West Village and witness true devotion to that less glamorous bivalve, the clam.
There are massive Cherrystones tucked in with red peppers under crisp breadcrumbs ($11), sweet Littlenecks raw on the half shell ($8) and sandwiches of fried bellies ($24). Sure, there are oysters, but don't let the little buggers distract you from Price's fresh spaghetti submerged in dark, umami-rich tomato sauce and piled with more clams, both in and out of the shell. The dish is $21, but it's pasta and salad in one, topped with a crown of arugula.
Price grew up along the edges of the Chesapeake Bay. This might explain why the thick, puffy potato chips that accompany the creamy clam dip ($9) are so generously dusted with Old Bay. It certainly accounts for the attention to crab cakes ($18), which, as they should be, are mostly crab. But it's the excellent chowder ($12) that really stands out here. It is silky and brilliant, sweetened with surf clam stock and thickened with potato.
The Clam has something else, even rarer among new restaurants than great clams: real charm. The brick walls glow with candlelight as well-dressed couples split chowder (the kitchen serves it in two bowls, if you're sharing), and single diners at the bar catch up on last week's New Yorker while sipping tumblers of Gotham Finger Riesling on tap ($10).
By seven, the tiny dining room is buzzing with conversation, though it never gets so loud that you have to shout--the menu may recall a clam shack, but you can be certain this isn't one.
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