Restaurant Review: The Glittering Pleasure of a Perfect Raw Bar

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I love to watch an oyster get shucked. The heft of a calciferous shell in a steady hand, the sweep and pop of the knife, the liquor-slick shine of the reveal. The setting hardly matters: in a wood-walled New England fish shack, at a dusky uptown boîte, before a table set up outside a Bronx fishmonger—an oyster is an oyster is an oyster. Still, there’s something especially pleasing about taking in that bit of invertebrate theatre in a room whose easy, briny sleekness matches the bivalve’s own.

Tuna carpaccio is drizzled with olive oil and a bay-leaf-infused vinegar, and enlivened with slivers of pickled cipollini onion and smashed green olives.

Penny, a stylish new seafood bar in the East Village, has a polished, understated swagger that somehow seems to make the oysters taste even better—the same sort of alchemy that made now-closed, well-missed places like the John Dory Oyster Bar and Pearl Oyster Bar such perfect places to slip in after work, or for a lingering lunch, to slurp down a dozen and feel a little bit more alive. It is owned by the restaurateur Chase Sinzer and the chef Joshua Pinsky, and is situated just upstairs from Claud, its sister restaurant, a slinky little bistro that’s been a hit since its opening, in 2022. Where Claud is warm and sexy—soft light, buttery wood, tomato-burgundy accents—Penny is slick and sharp, all white and steel and marble. Even the illuminated exit signs suspended near the front door, and the glassy wall of frosted windows in the back, are a frigid blue, not safety orange. (Is that even legal? The effect is gorgeous, either way.) Despite the chilly aesthetic, the mood is welcoming and casual; there are no tables, just a long row of thirty or so seats set before the room’s infinite-seeming raw bar, behind which an army of shuckers and slicers shuck and slice, reaching up into shapely wall-mounted troughs for a needed mollusk or crustacean. On one of my visits, a lobster, perhaps sensing the imminence of its final hour, attempted an escape, waving its claws forcefully enough to hurl itself off the ledge to the countertop below, only to be picked up by a cook, gently scolded, and returned to its compatriots in the bed of ice above.

The Ice Box Plus includes an array of seafood and two shot glasses of vichyssoise topped generously with caviar.

The best way to take in the bounty is by way of the ninety-eight-dollar Ice Box Plus, Penny’s version of a seafood platter. It’s an exquisitely arranged, gloriously over-the-top tray that on my visits bore brawny oysters, plump smoked mussels, tiny periwinkles (a type of snail), a huge scoop of lightly dressed Jonah crab, a slippery-sweet scallop crudo, and a tangle of vividly pink cocktail shrimp, tails entwined. Most thrilling, among the jewels, are two shot-glass-size portions of vichyssoise (a chilled potato-leek soup), dolloped upon arrival with voluptuous portions of caviar, green-gold and sublime, which slide almost seductively beneath the opaque surface of the soup. It’s not cheap eats, by any stretch, but it’s the sort of thing that makes money feel well-spent.

Two modestly hungry people could very happily make a meal out of the Ice Box Plus. (A smaller, less expensive option, the Ice Box, leaves out some of the more extravagant elements.) Order a bottle of skin-contact Spanish white to go alongside, or maybe splurge on a deep cut from the wine list’s striking collection of white Burgundies. You could throw in a dish of flamingo-pink tuna carpaccio, drizzled with olive oil and a bay-leaf-infused vinegar and enlivened with slivers of cipollini onion and smashed green olives, or the razor clams, which are chopped up raw and tossed with a zippy oregano-flecked, celery-forward giardiniera. (Celery, to my great delight, appears to be a secret theme on Penny’s menu, not only threatening to upstage the razor clams but zhuzhing up the mignonette that comes alongside the oysters with a whispery, watery, bittersweet note. And the only soda on offer is Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray.) Round things out with a petite, fresh-baked loaf of squishy brioche with butter, which is perfect for sopping up any lingering dregs of sauce or oil. (The bread shows up on the brief dessert menu, as well, sliced thick and sandwiching a scoop of vanilla ice cream plus a smear of jam.)

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At Claud, Pinsky has displayed an aptitude for applying heat to marine creatures. His take on Spanish gambas al ajillo—in which a pile of sweet red shrimp are dropped raw into a serving dish that’s slicked with sizzling, garlicky olive oil, which cooks them just barely—is straight-up fantastic. At Penny, the all-seafood conceit gives him even more room to explore. Oysters are confited in chicken fat until sumptuously rich, and served with spice-dusted Club crackers and a blob of crème fraîche. Squid stuffed with tuna and Swiss chard is charred to a tender, near-caramel sweetness. Its smoky, paprika-laden harissa sauce—a shocking red against the cool-toned room—pools on the plate with all the elemental intensity of blood. Dover sole arrives in a thick hunk, with ribs intact, topped with wobbly bits of bone marrow and drizzled in sauce Bordelaise–a normally fussy fish cleverly recast as a diminutive carnivorous feast. My apologies to that lobster who was seeking liberation. He (or perhaps it was his brother) was delicious, poached in court bouillon, dressed in a brown-butter vinaigrette, and served in pieces, arranged around an aromatic bundle of fresh sage and rosemary. It’s easy eating, in all senses of the phrase.

Penny takes reservations, but it holds a considerable portion of the room for walk-ins, which gives the well-orchestrated operation a glittering edge of spontaneity. (When I did make a reservation, and had to cancel one day before dining, the restaurant charged me a hefty cancellation fee—possibly the first time that’s happened in my significant Resy-using experience.) It might be tempting to try to have appetizers at Penny and finish the evening downstairs at Claud, but it would be something of a miracle to get into both in the same evening—and, more to the point, why would you want to leave? Just as Claud has its showstopper dessert—a gargantuan slice of night-black chocolate cake—so, too, does Penny. It’s a tidy serving of chocolate mousse, splashed with grassy olive oil and crowned with hazelnuts. Made from a carefully calibrated mix of dark and milk chocolates, it’s dense and smooth and deep and sweet, a plate of pure, relaxed luxury. ♦


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