I still haven't gotten over the closing of The John Dory. It was just about a year ago that I was raving about this new, hopping seafood spot. Maybe I jumped the gun in thinking that a nautical themed restaurant could actually last more than a few months outside of Times Square. I still stand by its excellent cuisine as apparently it was the location that determined the restaurant's fate. Upon the end of the summer closing, owners April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman quickly claimed to be reopening as soon as they found the right neighborhood setting. A few months ago I was ready to tell them to hurry on up! However, the former owner of Dell'Anima and L'Artusi has already beaten them to the punch and opened up Choptank, the newest seafood hotspot on prime West Village real estate - all the while offering prices that are even more right.
And this seafood restaurant rings even closer to my heart as it is inspired by the cuisine of the Chesapeake Bay, home to the blue crab and some of my fondest childhood memories. Note: order up the crab! With both an eat-in bar up front and an oyster bar in the middle of the restaurant, Choptank offers all kinds of drinking and dining options. However, the complimentary old bay chips and crab dip offered upon table dining should be motivation to settle in for more than a drink. These homemade chips alone are delicious- perfectly crispy with a dusting of old bay. And the crab dip is made with fresh chunks of crab meat and mixed with just the right amount of mayo.
The menu is divided into raw bar, nibbles, starters, steam pot, seafood, and meat sections - all excellent for sharing. I was lucky enough to share the evening with Kristin of The Pearl Onion. In case you hadn't noticed already, these beautiful, standout photographs are compliments of her! I recommend starting with the roasted wild mushrooms with warm egg yolk as one of the few non-seafood options. But, it's really the perfectly tender braised octopus with paprika, potatoes and arugula that stands out. And, as tempted as I was to try either the fried chicken or other meat options, it was really the seafood that I went for during the rest of the meal - and I have no regrets doing so. Although they sound quite standard, the littleneck clams served in a garlic butter and herb sauce with country toast is a must. I highly advise ordering extra bread to soak up this sauce as it is a butter-lover's heaven. And as soon as the soft, warm bread came out, I knew it was a great sign for the fried oyster po' boy ahead. The traditional sandwich certainly lived up to its expectations and more as it was served with pickle slaw, ranch dressing, and tobacco onions. I cannot seem to get the combination of flavors with the slaw, in particular, out of my mind. But, the signature dish that should really not be missed is the jumbo lump crab cake served with haricot verts, salad, and saltines (yes, the most comforting, basic cracker in the cupboard). I almost always hesitate to order crab cake when I dine out since nine times out of ten the dish is overly breaded and fried leaving me longing for my mother's recipe. However, her Maryland based recipe uses saltines - what I now realize to be an award-winning ingredient!
Since I can already call the crab cake an old favorite, I definitely see myself spending many winter evenings ahead at Choptank. And as soon as the days start heating up (which sadly according to the Groundhog will not be for awhile), this spot will so easily transition to satisfy those summer seafood cravings. I have long been searching for the NYC restaurant with paper tablecloths and peel and eat 'em shrimp on the menu. It's hard to believe that it has finally arrived and just a few blocks from where I live. And despite my recent track record with seafood spots, I have no hesitations in claiming Choptank as a keeper.
308 Bleecker St.
New York, NY 10014
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):