Once I had dinner at my friend Christine's house in Paris. Three women and a big bowl of raw clams. She gave us each a knife and told me to watch for the moment the clam shell opened a crack, then plunge the knife in and open. She and her friend Jeanne talked a mile a minute. For me, to follow in French and watch the clams at the same time proved difficult. And I'm sure the two of them got the bulk of the shellfish. I still love clams but prefer to have someone else open them. I can eat a couple of dozen on the half shell, but I enjoy them cooked when their briny flavor is heightened too.
The Hungry Cat in Hollywood (or in Santa Monica Canyon and in Santa Barbara) is big on littleneck and cherrystone clams on the half shell from the raw bar, always a treat, especially with their Greyhound Proper cocktail with fresh and candied grapefruit and Plymouth gin. "Lamb 'n' clams" pairs Manila clams with North African merguez lamb sausage in a dish that also includes garbanzo beans, charred broccoli and a dab of harissa aioli. Sometimes, chef and owner David Lentz will make a fried Ipswich clam roll, with cabbage, peppers and Sriracha hot sauce, served, natch, with French fries.
1535 Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 462-2155. Clams on the half shell, $2 each. Other clam dishes, $18.
The New England seafood house from Michael Cimarusti (Providence) is a clam lover's paradise. Tops on my list: the trio of dreamy chowders — New England, Manhattan or Rhode Island (clear) style. But you've got to have Josephine's clam cakes too, brought over from Providence's Friday lunch menu, served with the best tartar sauce in the West. Fans of steamers (soft-shell clams) should make a beeline for this new place if only for the steamers with drawn butter and clam broth. Fried clams? With or without bellies. Fries are fab too. Now open Friday through Sunday for lunch too.
8171 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-2722. Clam dishes, $10 to $16.
Chef-owners Steve Samson and Zach Pollack's menu at Sotto is focused on rustic southern Italian dishes. Meats and pastas dominate, but there is one terrific clam dish, spicy clams in guazzetto dressed up with pigeon peas and 'nduja (a spicy Calabrian sausage) with garlic crostone to dip in the ruddy juices. Unless you intend to keep this medium-sized dish all to yourself, mix it up with the fried chickpea panelle with lemon, maybe the grilled pork meatballs with pecorino and bitter greens and the mighty fennel-crusted heritage pork chop.
9575 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 277-0210. Spicy clams in guazzetto, $15.