Maybe it’s their role as icon for the Slow Food movement. Or maybe it’s the obsession with adventurous eating among fashionable foodies. Whatever the reason, suddenly, this spring, snails (land lobsters to their most fervent fans) are everywhere—from Momofuku Ssäm Bar, where they’re served in a chawan mushi with edamame and black truffle, to Varietal, where Wayne Nish has concocted what might be the first escargot lasagne. Some like Momofuku’s Dave Chang tout the poky gastropod’s firm but unrubbery texture and its miraculous ability to act as a flavor sponge. “It’s like tofu,” he says. Others speak glowingly of its own earthy, subtly gamy flavor. In snailspeak, there is the Helix pomata, a.k.a. the escargot de Bourgogne, and there is the Helix aspera, a.k.a. the petit gris, the two most popular species. Most people use canned snails (good ones are available at Trufette and Dean & DeLuca) because of the labor-intensive process of purging potential toxins from the fresh ones (among other things, the typical snail diet includes noxious plants). You may or may not be surprised to learn that, throughout the years, snails weren’t so popular, even in France, where, according to the Oxford Companion to Food, they’ve endured a “chequered history.” Whether the current craze is just another passing phase is something you can determine for yourself by slinking off to one of these pro-snail restaurants.
138 W. 25th St., nr. Seventh Ave.; 212-633-1800
A deconstructed lasagne of sorts made with a fricassee of snails, wild mushrooms, and spring vegetables flavored with tarragon and finished with butter and sherry vinegar. “Very straightforward,” says chef Wayne Nish.
43 E. 19th St., nr. Park Ave. S.; 212-780-0880
For a textural battle royale, executive chef Damon Wise pairs a chewy-oozy deep-fried hen’s egg with snails cooked in a chicken-stock-Lillet reduction enhanced with cocoa nibs.
36 W. 52nd St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-582-6900
“Snails are huge in Greek cuisine,” says chef Michael Psilakis, “especially in Crete, where my dad comes from.” His haute-Greek tribute: pasta with braised snails and rabbit, manouri cheese, and black truffle. (See review here)
DB Bistro Moderne
55 W. 44th St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-391-2400
What oysters are to Wellfleet, snails are to Alsace, which may be why DB’s Alsatian chef Olivier Muller vows that they “will never leave my menu.” He has many ingenious recipes on rotation, including the current escargot–and–“chicken oyster” fricassee with hazelnut spaetzle and mushrooms.
38 Macdougal St., nr. Prince St.; 212-475-7500
At the recently rescued and gently revamped Provence, Lynn McNeely serves his snails with stinging-nettle ravioli in a walnut pesto sauce.