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King’s CLAM BAR with Chef Bill Seleno: GRAND OPENING

18 Sep

For this story, we need to travel back to 12/12/12.  I had been chronicling Chef Bill Seleno on his quest to open up a new restaurant, The Keys.  Eater was posting about the story, and even made it “of note” in the most anticipated openings of the season.  On December 12th, there was paperwork. It looked like it was going to happen.  And then it didn’t.

The financial burden that the space was going to bring with it turned out to be much more than any new restaurant should take on and Bill just didn’t feel comfortable bringing anyone else into a space that started out with that much burden. The more they tried to make it happen, the more skeletons fell out of that closet, to the tune of likely doubling the anticipated debt. So Bill had to make the very tough decision to move on, even though he still believes in the concept and what it could have been. (And as far as I can tell, the space remains closed with no new tenants…)

I have been missing a location to have Chef Bill’s awesome food and was hoping for a triumphant return.  And now… it’s here:


Sure that blue taped sign behind security bars doesn’t look like much, but there was magic brewing inside. Chef Bill invited me for a friends and family menu tasting a few weeks ago to check out his new venture, King’s CLAM BAR.

Bill returned home after a whirlwind adventure around the country traveling, consulting, and cooking.  When he needed a place to crash, his old friend Anthony Casagrande, whom he worked with at Guastavino’s 15 years ago, offered him a place to stay.  Anthony’s cousins lived upstairs and owned a local dive bar that needed some help. It took a few months to put the pieces together, but a concept of a casual clam bar seemed perfect for the space, so Bill met up with Steve (the current owner) and decided to make it happen as chef and partial owner.  Bill brought along Heather Carter, who was going to be part of The Keys project, and just a few weeks later I am walking from the Barclay’s center to check out Bill’s new restaurant. Heather will be running the beer and wine program for the restaurant.

With King’s CLAM BAR, Bill plans to make the food he loves to make.  It will be primarily sea food and will be as local and as sustainable as possible.  He is using Sea to Table as his sea food supplier and they are right at the Brooklyn docks, with the goal of having everything that arrives on your plate caught within the last day.  It’s a bit more expensive to go this route, but Bill’s commitment to “True Food” is a very important part of the restaurant.

The concept is to serve the fish barbeque style with a menu that allows you to check off what you would like.  The fish will be portioned into specific quantities (quarter pound/4 ounces) and then you can order as much or as little as you would like).  Bill plans to cook the fish itself very simply with salt, pepper, and lemon in a banana leaf so the core of the fish dishes allow you to truly taste the flavor of fresh fish.  Then the idea is to mix and match and create whatever flavor profile you would like by combining any number of the 6 sauces (hot and cold) and 6 salads (potato, cole slaw, etc.) available.  Some sauce ideas right now are Smoked Yogurt and Whole Grain Mustard Sauce, Pepperoncini and Tomato Scampi Sauce, Spicy Ginger and Cilantro Sauce, Black Garlic and Dill Cream Sauce (YES!), and Charred Jalapeno Tartar Sauce.

The menu will also have a section from the kitchen (which, by the way, consists of 2-3 induction stoves, a double tack oven, and a smoker outside… no easy task) which will include (my favorite) mussels with black garlic and charred rosemary, a shrimp, chorizo, and pepperoncini scampi, and seared scallops with potato and bacon.  There will also be the clam dip (which I really enjoyed, and hope they serve with bagel chips!), shrimp and lobster rolls, and a few fun things from the smoker, such as a pig roast and clam bake.

The entire meal is meant to be family style and very casual. The waiters will be casual but very knowledgeable, knowing the source of all their products, including their beers.

Bill served up some great food that night, including an incredibly flavorful shrimp cocktail (with homemade sauce), Granny’s New England Clam Chowder (made with a very old fashioned recipe that involved boiling the chowder so the bottom rises to the top), mussels (which were a version of the mussels that made me fall in love with Bill’s food in the first place many years ago at Albert Hall Tavern, which is sadly gone), a potato salad (which was incredibly delicious with bacon in it), ceviche, clam dip (awesome), and then some smoked pig butt sliders.








It was all the Chef Bill food I absolutely loved.  Fresh, flavorful, with a little something special.

Tonight they will do the soft opening for the neighborhood to iron out some kinks with the system.  Most notably, Bill’s small, all-electric kitchen can’t necessarily pump out a ton of food all at once, so the food will come out as it’s ready.  Today will allow for the mishaps and the experimentation that is needed to allow it to be as good as it can be.  And then tomorrow will be the Grand Opening:

They will be serving dinner only at first and then expand from there. They will also have some special events like a patio pig roast and clam back with beer specials while the weather is nice.

The space is getting there. I’ve been watching their evolution on their Facebook page and cannot wait to drop by this weekend to see what they’ve done:

The patio out back:

Chef Bill at his newly painted red grill on the patio:

I cannot wait to have a home base to try all the food that Chef Bill is so passionate about. I have never been disappointed by a Bill prepared meal and I’m really looking forward to trying out his new restaurant.  Very excited for him.

The location is 622 Washington Ave between Pacific Street and Dean Street in Brooklyn. It’s four blocks from the Barclay’s Center and very close to the Clinton/Washington Street stop on the C train and all of the other trains that go into Atlantic Terminal.

See you there!

(For the menu and the first review of the food from Opening Weekend, check out the review here)


“Off the Menu” Part 2: Q&A with Chef Bill Seleno

8 Jul

I could have talked to Bill for hours about his history and passion.  We took a few minutes after discussing his history (posted Wednesday) for some quick fire questions (and some goofing off in the kitchen for the camera, where he showed off how he cooks his one of my favorite dishes at Albert Hall Tavern, the mussels with black garlic and charred rosemary).

(Chef Bill, on the left, goofing off with a trusted
coworker who he worked with years before)

What inspires you about food? 

Bill: “Flavor combinations. It’s like chemistry… architecture comes into play to balance using mathematics: Burnt lemons for citrus plus buttery lettuce plus fatty prosciutto and duck cracklings and artichokes… it lingers on the palate.  It should be like a roller coaster ride, always up and down, wondering what’s in the next bite. It’s important to play with flavors… smell is a flashback and the palette is the longest memory.  Burning wood reminds me of my Grandma in Germany. You never taste the same tomato twice, so you need to change the method to change the flavor to get it right. The staff finds it tough because there are no recipes.”

(On the topic of staff, Bill is looking for people who are as passionate about Albert Hall he is about the place… but is having problems finding and keeping good staff at the restaurant right now.  I would have to agree with him on that one, with the staff sometimes being quite lackluster, but Bill mentioned that he has some good people coming in soon, so I’m hopeful… update: huge improvements in waitstaff these past few weeks!)

What is your favorite dish to cook?

“Seafood.  Skate is my favorite fish.  You can do so much with it and it holds up to flavors well.  But most people don’t know it so it doesn’t sell.  It depends on my mood, but there are days I want nothing but burgers.”

(Prepping the mussels)

Least favorite?

“Paella.  I don’t get it.  And I once tried to make a cardamom-crusted filet.  Turns out cardamom is really bad on food.”

Favorite to eat?

“Duck confit with blood sausage and beans…pub cassoulette (‘a perfect foil’)…. Branzino whole, because the flavors of the meat stay in the meat… fish and chips (‘fried love’)… comfort food in the summer… fried homemade thin pasta with tomato and squid ink…”  (It was obvious he could have gone on and on…)

Hardest thing ever made?

“Baking… I still haven’t finished the German Chocolate Cake.  And Paella.  Never again.”


Biggest kitchen mistake?

“Vegetable moussaka and Guastovino’s.  There were 5 different vegetables, all roasted and seared with a tilt skillet.  We would do it by the ton, put a lid on it and put it into the walk-in.  It would take half a day to sear the vegetables.  I went to the walk-in and when I went to open the lid, there was a layer of mold on top.  I wasted an entire day on vegetables.”

(Charring the rosemary… UNDER the pan directly in the fire)

Worst night cooking?

“Valentine’s Day at Summit Restaurant.  We were booked solid and had a galley kitchen with a single in and out.  It was my first busy night and we were serving a prix fixe.  My sous chef got wasted (“he fell off the wagon”) and was sitting across the street with a paper bag in his hand.  It was a complex menu that could not be done by one person.  It was the one and only night I wanted to cry and I still get the chills thinking about it.  But the good days far outweigh the bad.”

Favorite memory?

“My daughter was on the line with me during her 1st year of life.  She grew up in the restaurant.  I have so many awesome memories of having her there with me.”

What kitchen tool can you not live without?

“Tongs.  They are extension of my hands in the kitchen.  I’m a big ol’ hot beast without them”

What is the most underrated food?

“Skate.  Nobody orders it so I have to eat it so it doesn’t go bad.”


“Filet mignon.  Why eat something with no marbling when you can eat something like a braised short rib?  It’s wedding food.”

If you weren’t a chef, what would you do?

“It has been years since I thought about that…  I couldn’t sit behind a desk. I have too much energy.  Probably carpentry.  It’s creative and hands on and has an end result.  Or design… design and build houses. I like going from concept to execution.”

(The finished mussels)

What is your opinion on celebrity chefs?

“They have a mystique.  Many were talented chefs before they were celebrities.  But you can make a celebrity chef out of anyone with a good publicist.  But it has made the standards and baseline for a good chef go up.  The staff has a better idea of what happens in the kitchen and it pushes chefs to be better.”

Do you have advice for someone looking to be a chef?

“Take 6 months off from earning money and find the most different construction job you can find, do it for no money… then consider being a chef.  At first, it’s working your ass off, cutting yourself, getting yelled at, not getting paid.  It’s like golf.  There is a lot of anger but then one good shot keeps you coming back.  Come hang out in my kitchen.  Train in a real kitchen and work for free to see what it’s really like.”

What is something that customers don’t know that they should about restaurants?

“The truth about the amount of work that goes into it.  On the Food Network, they see it quick. It all fits into 30 minutes.  They don’t see that I’m here from 7:30am until 1:30am every day.”

Favorite curse word?


Favorite type of meat?


Where do you eat in NYC?

“Blue Ribbon… The Alley… The Spotted Pig… Minetta… Employees Only… The Frying Pan” (he loves the Frying Pan and has his staff meetings on the top deck)

Best Food City (besides NYC)?

“New Orleans… maybe Chicago”

Favorite smell?

“Bacon… bread is runner up”

Where do you want to be in 5 years?

“On a beach. Cooking and relaxing.”

Last meal?

“Surf and turf”

For my full review of the food at Albert Hall Tavern, see the full post here.

“Off the Menu” Part 1: Interview with Chef Bill Seleno

6 Jul

Welcome to Off the Menu, a new section of NYC Nom Nom, which will feature “behind-the-stove” interviews with the people that make it happen.  I have a certain curiosity for how things operate in restaurants that we, as diners, don’t see.  I spent a summer as a hostess of a popular seafood restaurant at the Jersey Shore (the nice part… no Oompa Loompas present) and that gave me my first glimpse into what happens in a busy kitchen.  I found it both fascinating and terrifying.  I now have a lot of respect for what happens, and am constantly curious to find out how things work from the people that live it every day.

So without further ado, here is the first installment of Off the Menu…

When I asked Chef Bill to be my first interview for my new Off the Menu series on the blog, he said “yes” without hesitation.  As the chef of my new favorite neighborhood restaurant, Albert Hall Tavern, he seemed an obvious choice.  One thing that immediately made me admire Albert Hall Tavern was the staff, and especially Chef Bill, due to their absolute passion for what they were doing.  Bill welcomes me with warm greetings and conversation every time we enter the restaurant.  Between busy orders, he will regale us with conversation about baking German chocolate cake or bring out a sample of something new he just started experimenting with to taste.  We have never been disappointed with being the guinea pigs for his cooking experiments.  His personality is such that I can see him (and want to see him) on a cooking show someday.  You just can’t help but get swept up in his enthusiasm for food.

(Albert Hall Tavern Entrance)

I came in to speak with Chef Bill for our interview during a weekday dinner at the restaurant.  He was as warm and welcoming as ever, excited to sit down and chat.  I had written out a number of questions for him and launched right in, asking how he went from Architectural school in Georgia to being a chef in New York City.

(Collection of old liquor bottles in Albert Hall Tavern stairway)

Where It All Began

Chef Bill started by washing dishes at Mill Bakery Eatery and Brewery on Tybee Island near Savannah, Georgia.  He was doing a number of jobs at one point; working breakfast on River Street, taking the bus to South Street for lunch, then driving to Tybee island for dinner service.  While he says he burnt out, he also said that “something clicked.  There is a kinetic energy in the kitchen. Multitasking at 5 things at once.” He was hooked.

When I asked him how he came to New York, he said that it was a classic story of “someone who knew someone who knew someone.”  His mom had a customer who had a catering business who connected him to a chef named Peter Johnson in Rye, NY.

(Bar at Albert Hall Tavern)

Peter Johnson was opening up The Kitchen Sink and needed some hands for his 16-seat restaurant.  He put Bill on the line and taught him everything he knew.  Bill refers to him as an “old hippie” who was “an animal” with unconventional thoughts on cooking and flavors.  Bill said it was a brutal education, but he learned quickly.

Peter Johnson was cooking Pacific Rim and Asian flavor combinations that were unconventional and well before their time, earning The Kitchen Sink a three star review in the New York Times.   (This also earned Bill the bragging rights to say that they had Christmas parties with Donna Karan and all sorts of celebrities during those days).

Bill’s excitement and nostalgia was palpable as he showed me a picture of himself and Peter in the kitchen; Bill with a long pony tail (which is now gone), working in shorts and flip-flops.  Bill went on to explain that there was always tequila in the freezer on this “debaucherous” line and there were no formalities in that kitchen.

It was at this point in the conversation that Bill had to get up and check on things in the kitchen.  When he returned, we both noted that we had been talking for almost and hour and were only on question one.

(Tables and antique paintings at Albert hall Tavern)

Three Stars to NYC

Bill went on to work at Crew Restaurant in Connecticut with some high school friends.  Crew received three stars from the New York Times and was the first time his name was published as chef.

While Connecticut may be the hot spot (if you’re Martha Stewart) Bill had his sights on NYC and he took a step down to become a line chef at Maamba on 13th and 7th.  While at Maamba, his resume fell into the right hands at to Guastavino’s, which was under the 59th Street Bridge and was Esquire Magazine’s “Restaurant of the Year” in 2000.

At Guastavino’s, Bill learned volume.  He wistfully recalled a Mother’s Day where they ran 1,200 meals.  Fortuitously, he also met Artan there, who would come back into Bill’s life years later to build Albert Hall Tavern (but more on that later).  Bill said that every restaurant in NYC has a connection to Guastavino’s.  (Even his new fish supplier recently mentioned that he knew Bill from somewhere…)

(Dining Room in Albert Hall Tavern)

“The Ivory Coast of Manhattan”

We had a brief chat about Albert Hall’s neighborhood, which is still regarded as less than ideal, being tucked somewhere between Penn Station and Port Authority, on the lesser visited 9th Avenue.  Seeing as though this is where I choose to live and work, Bill and I had a moment of mutual appreciation for a neighborhood that is changing every day.  He mentioned one of his first Hell’s Kitchen memories is of his three year old picking at a stuffed quail from the Hell’s Kitchen Street Fair.  “It’s full circle to own a restaurant here this year.”

Rumors abound that an offshoot of the BLT franchise is moving into the neighborhood (confirmed: Casa Nonna opened a few weeks ago) and there are even murmurings of a Trader Joes (oh heavens!)  We had a good laugh when he called this little strip of New York the “Ivory Coast of Manhattan.” (There was also a great write up about this upcoming neighborhood in The Wall Street Journal recently, highlighting the new places including Albert Hall Tavern)

(Private Back Room at Albert Hall Tavern)

Albert Hall Tavern: The Beginnings

So how did Albert Hall Tavern come to be?  Bill visited a restaurant for rent in his “Ivory Coast” and fell in love with the space itself on 9th Avenue that now houses Albert Hall Tavern.  After a short lived run as a night club, Bill decided he wanted to create a restaurant that was all his own.

Bill quickly brought Artan (his friend from his Guastovino’s days who now runs Juliet Supper Club amongst many other projects) to visit the space and a partnership was formed.  They wanted to create a place that was an upscale tavern, with solid food and a good vibe.  A place like they went to when they went out.  A place you could sit for hours and feel comfortable. (And we do… often)

(Taxidermied lion in the private back room at Albert Hall Tavern)

As it turns out, Albert Hall Tavern was personally constructed at the hands of Bill and Artan themselves in just under 3 months.  They started decorating before the lease was signed and Bill hasn’t taken a day off since October.  The decorations are an amassed collection of flea market finds (the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market is open every weekend across the street, and there they found the pages from antique books that now decorate the walls. See photos throughout this post).  They found church pews and pulpits at a closing church in Long Island and they built the tables themselves.  Bill talks about a bakery sign he ripped off the walls in college that now hangs in the dining room.

They opened on New Year’s Eve and were packed until 4am.  (I fortuitously stumbled in just 3 days later)

Bill described his menu as being in waves with the season and is looking forward to adding Farmer’s menu specials as a clip-in.  He wants to keep it simple and comfortable.  It’s a labor of love, with 14-15 hours spent in the restaurant every day.  He called the restaurant “always a work in progress” and said “it will get softer and evolve naturally as the tables and chairs get warn and the locals become part of the operation.”

(Kitchen entrance at Albert Hall Tavern)

And Then….

When asking Bill about the future, he said that he wanted to Blue Print Albert Hall Tavern and open it up in other parts of town that need this kind of vibe.

To explain Bill’s passion on paper (screen?) is like trying to contain a firecracker.  It just can’t be done.  He said Albert Hall Tavern is his dream come true, with years of work coming to fruition.  While he wishes he could spend more time with his kids, he is living his dream.  And you can taste it.

My interview with Chef Bill was actually so interesting that I would up having to split this into 2 parts… check out Part 2 to read the quick-fire part of our interview.  And for more information about the food at Albert Hall Tavern, see my full review here.