Sea Urchin ($14)
"I get this sea urchin from an oyster farmer up in Marin County," says the chef. "It's got that West Coast flavor, but it's a little less sweet and more briny than most. It's so intense I need a little something to tone it down." That's watermelon and cucumber, with a fennel bavarois underneath. "They're flavors that aren't so intense as to get in the way."
Sea Scallop ($14)
Stafford-Hill gets Massachusetts diver scallops whole, slices them thinly, and dresses lightly with olive oil, salt, and esplette pepper. A shellfish consomme lines the shell ("I wanted to get some kind of ocean liquid back in there") before the scallops are layered inside, with fennel oil and a tomato granita to garnish.
Spanish Mackerel ($13)
"I'm using familiar Mexican flavors here," the chef says—"lime and orange, avocado, radish, jalapeño. I could get wackier, but don't really need to. These flavors work for a reason."
Alaskan King Salmon ($16)
"I love this king salmon, and it's in season now," says Stafford-Hill, "but it's primarily a vehicle for this caviar"—American caviar that's been cold-smoked. "With the smoky flavor and the fish together, it's almost like smoked salmon; smoked salmon and caviar are such an iconic pairing; it all made sense." Beets, crème fraîche, and caraway oil "support those Arctic Circle flavors."
Bluefin tuna ($16)
"I wanted tuna, but everyone does it—it's like, raw tuna on a plate again?" Stafford-Hill poaches the bluefin belly in olive oil with basil and lemon, and then presses it such that it's almost custardlike in texture. A thin slice of melon tops it off, with bottarga to garnish, and a summer gazpacho is poured over the top. "The tomatoes, zucchini—everything that's amazing right now."
"I wanted to show off the versatility of lobster here, everything lobsters can do. So I did it two ways: a custard layered on the bottom, with a corn soup over it, and then chunks of butter-poached lobster meat." Given its richness and the sharp sweetness of the summer corn, the chef says, "we actually pair it with a dessert wine."
"Langoustines are amazing but you don't see them enough. Per Se serves them, maybe, but they're not exactly accessible." Here, they meet roasted sweetbreads and a sweet onion purée, with zucchini balls and microgreens to garnish and a langoustine jus poured over the top. "I like having these richer dishes, fish and meat, when it's a full dinner."
Crab & Crayfish ($15)
"When I got to this restaurant, the only food they were doing: oysters and gumbo." So Stafford-Hill felt he needed some sort of gumbo rendition on the menu. "It was a bit of a concession. Gumbo can be good, but it can also be a little too peasant-y—too rough, too rustic." It's said, the chef told us, that the first gumbo emerged from the French Canadians coming to Louisiana and trying to make bouillabaise from what was there, "so I'm doing a bouillabaise style. We get these amazing heads from all the seafood, fish heads and crab and crayfish, so I do a bouillabaise out of those with just a little dark roux and spice at the end." On top: crayfish, crab, poached oysters, and a little andouille-like sausage "that we make from the trim of suckling pig."
Absinthe Panna Cotta ($8)
"So many absinthes work well with cream, so this dessert is just a logical extension of that." A simple panna cotta with cream, absinthe, sugar, and a bit of gelatin to hold it together. Topped with red and white wild strawberries "which have a crazy aromatic sweetness."