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)