Clay New York | Serendipity
Earth is the home for clay. Clay is the home for all.
Clay, a new American restaurant, presents the idea of a farm-to-table experience paired with unique natural wines in Harlem of New York City. Upon stepping into the chic and cozy setting of the restaurant, a feeling of arriving at a fancy dinner at a friend’s house surely arises. The tables are adequately situated and spaced so guests can have the preferred intimacy within their own and between neighboring tables yet also maintain a level of privacy. The initial feeling soon develops into more of a sense of belonging to this home, thus making this dining experience even more welcoming and relaxing.
Home – a place where an object is kept.
The space in which Clay inhabits now is not only the home to the past and future stories of itself, but it is also home to the rich history of the Harlem nightclub, Perk’s, which preceded Clay. This history is still evident in the form of terra cotta tiles, discovered downstairs and restored to become an integral part of Clay, which contribute to the charm of this restaurant’s namesake material. Clay can come in different forms and shapes, just like a home – humble, simple and from the earth. The ability to be molded and sculpted into countless possibilities is what makes clay an earthly, strong and yet fluid material, one that is not solely visual and artistic, but utilitarian as well.
The meal begins with an amuse-bouche of housemade ricotta cheese served on housemade sourdough bread, topped with fermented raw, organic honey from the Finger Lakes. The honey ties the vastly different tastes and textures of the cheese and bread together and simultaneously complements one another in one bite. The natural flavor of the honey leaves you wanting more. One of their appetizers is the with toasted buckwheat, pickled shallot, celery root discs, and cured egg yolk shaved over the top. The slightly cooked wagyu beef and the toasted buckwheat added on extra layers of flavors in every bite. The buttermilk dressing was rich and creamy and blanketed the endive salad with toasted pine nuts.
Throughout the course of dinner, catching glimpses of and having long stares at the interior design and décor made the environment and experience extremely home-like. The shelves, right above the stairs leading down to a dining room, were filled with books that the chef and bar director take turns bringing in from their own homes. At times, they would replace a book they decide to take home to read with another of equal or more meaning. The books, nicely stacked, placed and separated in front of the white stonewalls by delicate potteries and lighting, seemed as if it had been carefully curated, but in fact isn’t. Modern porcelain fixtures cast soft lights on the natural wood tables and white stonewalls. It definitely resembled a dimly lit room at home with a bookshelf, occupied with books that are ready to be picked out and read slowly and thoroughly.
Clay’s pasta is all made fresh in house. Their gnocchi is delicately fried with butternut squash, hazelnut, maitake mushrooms, sage, pickled Fresno chiles and topped with Parmesan cheese shavings. The crunch to the hazelnut and the softness of the gnocchi brought a contrast to the texture of this dish. The butternut squash and the gnocchi both contributed to the creamy flavors and the sweetness of the butternut squash balanced out the salty taste of the cheese perfectly.
The menu is filled with elegant and hearty choices. The Pork Tenderloin was accompanied by charred romaine, pink and purple potatoes, apple mostarda, and chili sauce. The pork was cooked superbly, rendering each bite extremely tender and juicy of its natural meaty flavors. The Duck Confit Leg was served with celeriac, collard greens, smoked farro, and finished with a tart blueberry gastrique. The amazingly crunchy duck skin stood out in each bite, but doesn’t overshadow the softness and taste of the duck meat.
The pairing of different natural wines to each dish is done boldly and uniquely at Clay. The gnocchi was paired with Iuli’s Umberta, a popular house wine with a fresh, vibrant and playful taste, which definitely projected past the strong and rich flavors of the dish. Escoda Sanahuja: Nas Del Gegant’s juicy and spicy taste did not conquer the palate and didn’t diminish anything of the pork and duck dishes. The material clay does not just relate to the earth and the history of this restaurant, but also the food and wine they serve. Clay can be found in certain wine-growing soils and storage.
The vanilla bean flecked panna cotta is based on yogurt with a butter crumble and red wine-fig gastrique definitely hits the spot as a tangy dessert. The tang from the fig balanced the sweetness in the panna cotta. There are other desserts like their housemade doughnuts with lemon verbena glaze and dusted with lovage powder, and the chocolate budino with candied spiced pecans and vanilla merengue chips.
The fine-grained material, clay, holds symbolic significance for the restaurant. Being one of the earliest and oldest building materials on Earth, it was used to build homes. And it seems so serendipitous that terra cotta tiles from the past were incorporated so seamlessly back into this restaurant to help create a dining experience with a home-like ambiance for all.