New York’s best seafood dishes of 2014 cast a wide net. You could slurp New Zealand oysters aboard one of the city's boat bars, crack the buttery pastry crust of a fennel-licked fish casserole or tuck into a hearty bowl of soul-warming soup.
You can spread this Boerum Hill charmer’s butter on a shoe and it would likely taste good. Thankfully, Buttermilk Channel chef Ryan Angulo employs soft slabs of the house-made spread—folded with dark, salty ribbons of Rhode Island algae—to crown plump fillets of oily, briny fish instead. Load the tasty provisions onto the accompanying slices of Bien Cuit’s excellent, crusty rye ficelle. $10.
On the plate, Markus Glocker’s avant-garde octopus pastrami is a work of art, the gleaming white discs almost too pretty to eat. Almost. For this silky terrine, the tentacles, braised in a tomato consommé studded with bacon, leeks, garlic and thyme, are lined up in rows inside a mold and layered with toasted pastrami spices (think coriander, peppercorns, cloves and paprika). The mosaic slices are served over shreds of rich ham hock and garlic boiled potatoes, with a haphazard tossing of bitter rye croutons and briny caper berries—an artist’s finishing touch. $55 for two courses, $65 for three.
For top-notch bivalves, you want to get as close as possible to the source, and you can’t get closer than right on the water. Aboard his historic schooner–turned–oyster bar, Mark Firth anchors his small-plates menu with a stand-up selection of slurpers ranging from New York’s clean, mildly saline Navy Beach suckers ($3) to New Zealand’s rich, creamy Kiwi Cup ($4). Each order can—and should—be dolled up with a hefty spritz of lemon, and dabs of red-wine mignonette and cocktail sauce.
Most of the well-heeled folks lining up outside chef Sarah Simmon’s chicks-and-champs grotto are there for the namesake fried fowl. But its her smart, studied version of shrimp and grits that will stick in your mind as much as it does your ribs. A riff on bayou barbecue, the shell-on critters are rendered salty, sweet and savory in a saute of garlic, hot sauce and rosemary, enriched with Worcestershire and loads of butter. Heritage Anson Mills grits, corn-sweet and spoon-fed buttermilk until soft and silky, get knocked up a notch with peppery Tasso ham and nutty mushrooms—forget a side act, these grits are the star. $24
If anyone can lay claim to herring supremacy, it’s the Russ family. A century ago, Joel Russ kickstarted his iconic appetizing store by shilling schmaltz herring off a pushcart and at this sit-down spin-off helmed by his great-grandchildren, that herring expertise is still going strong. Four types of herring are highlighted in this impeccably fresh smoked-fish smorgasboard: Bright, vinegary rollmops, pure, puckery pickled, Swedish matjes spiced with brown sugar and clove, and, of course, that old-world schmaltz. $20.
Octopus is a damn fickle thing. Cooked for too long, it’s dry and tasteless; underdo it and the tentacles become dense and devastatingly chewy. But down on the Bowery, Richard Kuo coaxes the high-maintenance mollusk into tender submission with a seven-spice togarashi rub and a day-long sous-vide soak in Mirin rice wine. Tossed in a sriracha glaze and flash-fried, the resulting tendrils are pure deep funk, smoky, spicy and downright sexy. $17.
Joey Campanaro and Mike Price practice what they preach at this bivalve-focused charmer, serving a purist, fresh tumble of tender, shell-on steamed clams in garlicky, white-wine–fortified broth—it’s like summer in a bowl. Pro tip: Sop up those juices with tears of buttered, herb-slathered baguette. $14.
Britain’s humble fish pie gets a high-minded overhaul at this uptown Anglo canteen. Chef Joseph Capozzi binds flaky pollock and generous hunks of lobster claw with a tarragon-flecked fennel puree, adding a jolt of brightness, all tucked beneath a thick, bubbly head of puff pastry that’s practically begging to be pierced with a spoon. $29.
At their North Brooklyn seafoodery, Vincent Milburn and Adam Geringer-Dunn dial down their New England–style chowder bowl with a buttery broth that’s far less of a belly-bomber than most creamy takes. Loaded with fresh clams—a few of which are kept in their fish-stock–scooping shells—the soul-warming soup bobs with chunks of gold potatoes and a shower of parsley to freshen things up. $10.