Black Crescent takes the term “Oyster Bar” to another level. The folks at seafood purveyor Wild Edibles have created a sophisticated cocktail bar at heart, with dim lighting, communal tables, and big band music on the sound system. Black Crescent also turns out an impressive selection of oyster varieties and exceptional, finely prepared seafood small plates – like citrus-cured scallops and house-smoked salmon – with all the finesse, flavor, and attention to detail you find at many fine dining establishments.
The bar’s concept is nicely versatile, accommodating guests with varying agenda. Diners can enjoy a full dinner comprised of oysters and their choice from the over half a dozen seafood plates, paired with an international wine selection (including a great Basque country white, but no pinot grigios). Or they can stop in for a snack, or a few creative cocktails, or even some late-night revelry. (Carlos Baz, one of the owners, admitted somewhat sheepishly that it got a bit “bro-y” one Saturday night after 1 a.m.).
Order the txakoli, and watch Reynolds, who holds shop behind the bar, expertly pour it like we saw in the Basque country.
The cocktail list is highlighted by the Broadside, with walnut-infused rye whiskey, Chinese five spice, lemon, and eggwhite; an intensely wintery drink that immediately warmed me up while waiting for some oysters. Speaking of oysters, Black Crescent offers some for 99 cents each during happy hours running from 6 – 8 p.m. and again from midnight – 1 a.m. There are also a good selection of other oysters, including some of my favorite from Fanny Bay, in British Columbia.
The oysters are served with a bosc pear mignonette sauce, which is mixed with a healthy amount of black pepper. The oysters are NOT served with cocktail sauce, which is banned from the premises. Helpful small print on the menu explains that the pure taste of the oyster should not be overpowered by cocktail sauce, hot sauce, or other traditional accompaniments.
When asked, Carlos explained his dismay at seeing his Wild Edible customers drown beautiful oysters with copious amounts of the horseradish laced condiment. I, for one, don’t mind a bit of cocktails sauce or even hot sauce on oysters, if used in moderation, but have always preferred mignonette sauce. This hardened stance goes along with the bar’s general sophisticated feel.
The seafood small plates are around $15 each, which can add up, but pack a lot of flavor and are beautifully presented. My only complaint is that because the bar is dimly lit, you can’t see the dishes well enough to fully appreciate their presentation (and requiring the use of flash on my camera).
I agree with Reynolds whose favorite is the “smoked” plate of house-smoked salmon on top of house-smoked bluefish salad, on top of a grilled brioche dyed black with squid ink. This is a fun play on the traditional smoked salmon on pumpernickel that you might see at a Jewish deli. The brioche added some sweetness that compliments the smoky flavor of both fishes.
Another superb creation was a citrus cured scallop dish with slivered jalapenos and blood orange ices. The incorporation of the cold ices was unusual, but worked nicely, balancing sweetness against the citrus of the scallop, and spiciness of the jalapeno.
Another creative dish was paper-thin octopus carpaccio with fennel salad, persimmon, and black olive “dust,” which provided a nice salty flavor without being too olivey. It ate more like a salad than a carpaccio, and the super thin pieces of octopus nicely balanced the anise flavor of fennel.
We also enjoyed an olive oil poached fish with chorizo and topped with bitter greens. The fish, which rotates depending on availability, was cobia the night we tried it. The addition of chorizo is always a nice touch, but like always, there could have been more chorizo.
There is no dessert, but Carlos helpfully suggested that oysters make for an excellent dessert. They do, indeed.
76 Clinton St.
(between Rivington St & Delancey St)
New York, NY 10002
Recommended dishes: Cocktails, oysters, citrus cured scallops, smoked salmon, octopus carpaccio.