Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
Rich Torrisi, Mario Carbone, and Jeff Zalaznick love nothing more than eating raw fish and drinking cocktails. "That's what we do in our free time. It's our favorite thing," explains Zalaznick, "we built a place that's an idealized version of what we like to do most."
That place is ZZ's Clam Bar, a 12-seat seafood and cocktail bar from the group behind Torrisi, Parm, and most recently Carbone. Unlike the latter, which has a deep reverence for red sauce joints, ZZ's resembles an Italian-American clam bar only in that the menu is dominated by seafood.
The dishes (exact prices still getting worked out, but expect to pay $15 to $50 per small plate—budget seafood this is not) showcase a more worldly approach to raw fish; highlighting style before ingredients, with preparations including crudo, carpaccio, ceviche, and tartare. The fish comes from Tsujiki market in Tokyo as well as local purveyors.
"We're obsessed with raw food and sushi," remarks Torrisi, "it's the most sophisticated kind of cooking. You have the best product and you have to really know how to handle it and have the experience not to get in its way."
Fresh and simple were words that kept coming up in our conversation, yet a clear amount of thought and technique has gone into the construction of the menu. A minimalist presentation of filleted Japanese Sardines are briefly cured in salt, marinated in rice wine vinegar, and then submerged in olive oil. The fish is finished with a strawberry relish.
"We were sitting around at Carbone, writing menus and thinking about all the things we want to eat... eating steak with carpaccio and uni, just riffing off of our fantasies," Zalaznick describes the inspiration for perhaps their most indulgent dish: a Carpaccio of Chianina beef, thinly sliced razor clams, Santa Barbara uni, and raw spot prawns with a caviar sauce.
The focus on raw fish and cocktails is a point of emphasis for the guys. "If you don't love these things, there's really no reason to come," Torrisi admits half jokingly. "But people who have similar fantasies to us... they have no idea what they're going to walk into. There are a lot of us out there who fetishize raw fish and cocktails, and when they come here... their heads are going to explode."
The small bar is currently open and takes reservations. For details on the cocktails, head over this way.