On balmy days, vacationers on the Cape bury speckled black pots—brimming with briny shellfish, round potatoes and fat knobs of corn—in sand fire pits and steam them in seaweed wraps for breezy beach gatherings. Chef Josh Blakely’s stellar ode to those outdoor feasts is perfect for sharing at one of the umbrella-covered tables on Extra Fancy’s sunlit back patio. He first throws juicy kielbasa, sweet corn, blanched potato quarters, a lobster tail and jumbo shrimp in their shells onto the grill. The smoke-perfumed mixture is added in stages to a pot of clams and mussels, steamed with Budweiser until the shellfish release their liquid, and finished with a shallot-butter sauce punched up with hard cider and apple vinegar. Sop up the lush drippings with hunks of corn bread or the chunks of potatoes clustered at the bottom of the pot.
At Andrew Carmellini’s boisterous downtown eatery, diners can ramble across America via the regionhopping menu. Touch down in port city New Orleans with this gloriously messy French Creole favorite. Carmellini gently poaches thick prawns in a light broth flavored with vegetables and spices, and dusts them with a zesty Cajun spice mix of paprika, onion and garlic powders, dried herbs and cayenne. You’ll stain your fingers a rusty red prying tender meat from the shells and dunking the crustaceans in a plucky horseradish-spiked red rémoulade sauce. One bourgie update: steamed and rolled hand towels for wiping your digits clean.
Doors flung open onto sunny Kenmare Street offer a cacophony of car horns, not waves, but this emblematic summer dish will transport you to the shoreline anyway. Chef Richard Diamonte doesn’t mess too much with the classic preparation, simply steaming a 1.5-pound Maine lobster in a Combi Oven, which is gentler than boiling water. The split-tailed crimson crustacean is served on a regal aluminum platter with a ramekin of golden drawn butter and bright halves of lemon. There are cloth napkins rather than paper bibs at this pretty spot; after crushing claws and knuckles with the cracker, sending juice and shell bits flying, you may have to call for a few more.
Although this East Village seafood spot namechecks the Japanese deep-frying technique, tempura, on the menu, the standout dish is closer in form to the classic British fish-and-chips. Chef David Malbequi cloaks two fillets of the white-fleshed hake in an effervescent batter zipped up with Sam Adams Boston lager, plunges them in boiling oil and then sprinkles them with peppy Old Bay. The result: moist slabs of opalescent fish encased in burnished, ethereally puffy shells. Get yours alongside tangy buttermilk tartar sauce laced with fresh tarragon and a side of Old Bay–seasoned fries ($6) to complete the plate.
Channeling the signature sandwich of famed Ipswich, Massachusetts, seafood shack the Clam Box, chef Andrew Wandzilak imports full belly clams directly from the sammie’s coastal New England hometown. Instead of the traditional top-loading bun, Wandzilak swaps in a squishy Martin’s potato roll. A heaping mound of tubby clams, rich with oceanic funk, spill over the splayed bun’s halves. The flash-fried bivalve’s crackling cornmeal coating contrasts with its succulent center, while cool iceberg lettuce and a homemade tartar sauce dappled with capers and pickled jalapeños brighten the whole package.
Mashing up garden and sea, chef Ilene Rosen cooks down an armload of bold, fresh greens—spinach, cilantro, parsley, dill and green garlic—for the herbaceous base of this steaming crock of mussels. Scoop up the brackish liquid with shells and slurp it down with the plump and tender bivalves. The buttery, grassy broth is addictive, especially soaked into the charred slices of country white bread that are served alongside.
Chef-owner Liza Queen offers this whimsical twist on Louisiana’s po’ boy sandwich, changing out the French bread and adding a few upmarket touches. She dredges creamy, pungent oysters—the sweetbreads of the ocean—in cornmeal, deep-fries them until crunchy and plunks them into a crisp-toasted ciabatta roll along with thick, chewy bacon and swipes of mayo. Tendrils of peppery baby arugula and a dollop of bittersweet Meyer-lemon marmalade cut through the sub’s layers of richness.
The chilled American seafood standby reclaims its ’50s glory, perched on a silver bowl in a crystalline bed of crushed ice, at this sceney downtown eatery. Crisp breakfast radishes, cucumber sticks and lemon wedges frame the pinkish curled shrimps, which are poached in kombu-fortified sea broth and decorated with a tangle of pea shoots. Grab a tail and dunk the toothsome prawn into the homemade cocktail sauce—chef Brad Farmerie’s mellower update is made from a ketchupy base spiced with sriracha, horseradish and ginger, and scented with yuzul.
Chef Floyd Cardoz brought this signature halibut plate from the beloved, now-shuttered Tabla to his new station at Danny Meyer’s New American grillery, steps from the West River banks. Cardoz combines the fish with warm-weather staple watermelon as a tribute to his father, who liked to season the juicyfruit with black pepper. Panfried halibut with a crispy rice-cereal crust sits in a pool of luscious watermelon curry, piquant with cumin, turmeric and ginger. A bed of wilted peppery watercress, a crown of white watermelon seeds and green beads of lime balance the elegant, summery dish.