103 W. 77th St., nr. Columbus Ave.; 212-362-3800
Apologies to Manhattan, but when you think best clam chowder, you think New England. You think Nantucket. You think broken-down fish shack. If you’re a bookish sort, you think Moby-Dick’s Try Pots chowder house, where Ishmael gave the plat du jour a rave review. If you’re a local yokel, you think Pearl Oyster Bar in the Village. But when you unexpectedly find the dish listed as a $12 appetizer on a menu by a chef who did time at Napa’s French Laundry, you think someone must have forgotten the quotation marks. As it turns out, John Fraser’s menu doesn’t need them because Fraser, in his inimitable way, strikes a nifty balance between Yankee tradition and Thomas Keller–instilled whimsy. What makes it the best? Good Spanish chorizo standing in for salt pork. Tender Manila clams, and potatoes that are blanched and applewood-smoked, which lends the whole super-creamy thing a remarkable depth of flavor. That this posh porridge is served not with a pack of crackers but a housemade black-pepper croissant doesn’t detract either. How do you chase a bowl of chowder with a croissant at a three-star restaurant? You can nibble the buttery pastry daintily between spoonfuls, but Fraser’s own preferred method is to nearly finish the chowder and then swab the bowl with the croissant the same way they clean their pasta plates down on Mulberry Street.