Review: Clay Restaurant

XO Rating

8 Décor
10 Experience
9 Food
10 Service
9.3

Location: 553 Manhattan Avenue (at 123rd St.)

Price: $$

Cuisine: New American // Farm-to-Table


Overall: A rich and rare dining experience for a neighborhood that is rich in history. It is the kind of place that will have foodies traveling uptown and locals frequenting often.

From Architectural Designer Roberto Sosa, the space was designed to evoke the earthen charm of Clay’s namesake material. Large French doors with floor-to-ceiling windows give way to the intimate dining room, where modern white porcelain fixtures cast soft light onto natural wood tables. A muted gray painting of fragmented clay pottery adorns the far wall. A white marble bar running the length of the space leads to a downstairs dining room with a rough-hewn white stone wall and terracotta flooring.

The unassuming space that occupies the corner of Manhattan Avenue and West 123rd Street has had more than one reincarnation. And as a Harlem resident, I can tell you that its current occupants are the most spellbinding to date. Perhaps it is because the three people who brought this vision to life – Executive Chef Gustavo Lopez, Wine Director Gabriela Davogustto, and Bar Director Andrea Needell Matteliano – are Harlem residents themselves who love and appreciate the space and the neighborhood. At Clay, the trio has created a sleek and modern farm-to-table restaurant that offers creative, American delights sourced from small and local suppliers. No detail was overlooked in the soothing gray and white space that has a slightly Scandinavian feel. From the faceted light fixtures and candle holders to the relaxing sounds of Thievery Corporation and Roy Ayers covers, Clay is beaming with charm and maintains the signature warmth locals come to expect in Harlem.

The Feast

Fall Greens

With simple ingredients like radish, almonds, raisins, and lemon, you don’t expect to be wowed by a salad. But when these ingredients are in the hands of Chef Gustavo, a masterpiece is made of an often overlooked course. The greens were sweet, light, and somehow comforting – it is a dish that is not to be missed.

Gnocchi

Handmade gnocchi is a signature dish that local diners came to enjoy when Gustavo served as chef at the nearby restaurant Vinateria. His current combination of seasonal favorites that include butternut squash and sage, make for a hearty dish that doesn’t leave you feeling disappointed or guilt-ridden.

Confit Duck Leg

Quite frankly, this is the best dish at Clay. I could wax poetic about the crispy skin, the succulent duck fat, and the caramelized blueberries that create the most decadent gastrique, but you’re better off making a reservation and enjoying this superb dish served with smoked farro and collard greens.

Striped Bass

If the idea of duck fat on your lips seems too indulgent, I would beg you to reconsider. But, I would also recommend that you try this seafood option that is prepared with zucchini, endive, cannellini beans and brown butter.

Dessert

Chocolate Budino

This is not your common dish sourced from the local bakery. THIS. IS. HEAVEN… on a plate. This Columbian chocolate treat is cool on the tongue and bittersweet to the palate. And when accompanied by the crunch of spiced candied pecans and merengue chips, it is a sublime final course and the perfect way to end your meal.

Cocktails

No Flowers

No Flowers (made with rye, pear, molasses, black tea, lime, and cardamom) is a great drink that doesn’t pack a huge punch. Instead, it is mellow and flavorful which suits the mood of the restaurant.

For wine lovers, you’re in luck! Ms. Davogustto’s  natural wine list is a carefully curated collection featuring labels from the Canary Islands, Spain, France, Italy, Germany and South Africa to name a few. It was built with exploration in mind and ensures that repeat visitors will be kept interested and engaged. Her interest in natural wine extends beyond its trendy appeal, and she makes sure that every bottle on her list is balanced.

In the words of Ella Fitzgerald, “you must take the ‘A’ train” to take part in all the goodness that is happening on this residential corner in Harlem. Clay gives patrons an opportunity to step into another world where the food is just as warm and delightful as the kind and knowledgeable staff. Whether you’re looking to impress a new romantic prospect or reunite with old friends, Clay is an ideal place for it all. For more information, head over to www.claynyc.com.

Clay is located at 553 Manhattan Avenue (at 123rd St.), New York, NY 10027, 212-729-1850. Clay is open Tues-Thurs 5:30pm-11pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-12am, and Sunday for brunch 12pm-3:30pm, dinner 5:30pm-10pm.

-James Bianca