When we decided not to go to New Orleans, I was bummed. Not because I wanted to go to Bourbon Street, though I did (except that this whole shooting thing may have put a damper on things). Not that I didn’t want to make a pilgrimage to the Abita Brewing Company, because I really wanted to. And not because I wanted to show The Wife the city I discovered earlier this year, because I really did.
No, I was sad because I wouldn’t get to dive headfirst into oysters and the rest of the great seafood found on the Gulf Coast. But then I realized that we would be New York City-bound and that great seafood came into the local fish markets each day, right? Right?
The Lobster Place is a wholesale, retail and grab-and-go outfit located near the center of Chelsea Market. Looking for live lobster or wild-caught Chilean Sea Bass to cook at home? They have it. Looking for a lobster roll or some bisque to nibble on while walking around or for lunch? They have that too.
They also have an oyster bar next door called Cull & Pistol (“cull” is the term for a lobster missing one claw; “pistol” means a lobster missing both due to predators), where we sidled up for dinner on our Saturday evening in the city. Reservations were an easy grab on OpenTable and the tables were mostly filled when we arrived. Seating at the raw bar is first-come, first-served.
We were seated immediately and greeted by our waiter who explained the raw bar menu and how to order. A list of the days offerings is presented, along with a golf scorecard pencil, to mark quantities. A selection of nine oysters from both coasts, plus littleneck and cherrystone clams and scallops are available raw. Jumbo shrimp, crab legs, lobster and caviar are also served from the bar. Our first order included a mix of Standish Shore and Hog Neck oysters for me, littleneck and cherrystones for her, and a bunch of shrimp for the both of us. The shrimp were cooked just to done, peeled and deveined. As you bit into them, the shrimp meat snapped, a combination of perfect cooking and chilling, and their size. The accompanying cocktail sauce had a nice balance of tang and horseradish heat.
The clams and oysters were presented on the half-shell and standing in their own brine. Lemon wedges and mignonette were served, though The Wife opted to eat her clams right from the shell. I ate the first of each oyster style with nothing to gauge whether and how much mignonette to add. Nothing on the platter was less than great, so much so that we went back for more shrimp and oysters.
Rather than head to the list of eight entrees, ranging from fish and chips and lobster rolls to whole fish and a 1 1/2 lb. lobster, we stayed with the raw bar and starters. The Long Island clam toast saw three pieces of grilled ciabatta topped with a garlic aioli, then tasso ham and whole clams. The stockpile of fish toppled from the toast, making for a follow-up nosh when the whole pieces had disappeared.
Grilled citrus-marinated octopus is the centerpiece of the salad bearing its name. Large pieces of octopus are tossed with frisee and sunchokes, and served with a chorizo vinaigrette. My singular regret about ordering this salad was the lack of bread on the table to mop up the remaining dressing.
The John Dory Oyster Bar may have been closer to our hotel, and the oyster bar at Grand Central Station or Aquagrill may be of greater renown, but Cull & Pistol’s reputation will eventually catch up with the quality of food and service that precede it. And that will be a great day for them.
Cull & Pistol is located at 75 Ninth Avenue in Chelsea Market. Reservations are accepted for tables, though raw bar seating is first-come, first-served. Dinner for two with drinks and multiple trips to the raw bar was $125 before tip.