At lunch, you’ll find the Clam staff frying up salty, cornmeal-crusted rockfish with fries dusted in dill ($14). They’re ladling big bowls of what may be the city’s best seafood chowder —thick, not from a cornstarch slurry, but from the sheer quantity of a rotating assortment of fin fish, together with potatoes and bacon ($9). The dinner menu, Bugge explains, was designed to offer “the Matt’s style with a little bit of the Radiator flair.” It makes sense, then, that he hired chef Nebe to lead the kitchen. Nebe has spent the past couple of years at Radiator Whiskey; before that, he was crafting corn dogs at Unicorn bar on Capitol Hill.
The melding of Bugge’s daring dish ideas and Nebe’s “why not?” approach results in a boldly flavorful menu that’s a little tongue in cheek. Smoked oysters and bacon are matched with bone marrow in an over-the-top, umami-packed take on an old-school English dish called bone marrow “Kilpatrik” ($16). Hawaiian blue prawns ($23) swim in something Bugge describes as “clarified brain butter,” made from the prawns’ shells (along with all those tasty bits inside the heads) and lemons roasted in the wood-fired oven. One of the best dishes isn’t seafood at all: a house-made bratwurst served in a pool of cashew curry sauce ($19), which Nebe’s fans may recognize as a version of a dish he offered when he ran a German pop-up called Dackel in 2014. Nebe and Bugge hope to add some celebratory whole-table seafood spreads, which will require you to roll up your sleeves and get at those little fish bones with your hands.
The inspiration for both restaurants came from the 10-plus years Bugge spent slinging fish at Pike Place Market. When visitors would ask where they could get clams or salmon or the day’s catch, he came up dry on what to recommend. Mind you, this was before RockCreek, the seafood place I currently recommend, and before Westward, the seafood restaurant with one of the best views. Still, what Bugge and Nebe have accomplished is unlike either of those: a pair of waterfront restaurants casual enough for after-work cocktails and oysters or a quick weekday lunch, yet celebratory enough for date-night dinners.