photo credit: Teddy Wolff
Dr. Clark was destined to be cool from its inception. The Chinatown restaurant lives on Bayard Street in the same space of former sceney spots like Lalito and Winnie’s. Owner Yudai Kanayama also operates time-tested fun destinations like Nowadays in Ridgewood and The Izakaya in the East Village. Before the restaurant even opened for service, it was profiled in Vogue. And, most importantly, Dr. Clark is the only place in New York City exclusively dedicated to serving food from Hokkaido, the northernmost (and chilliest) region of Japan. Like we said, cool.
This Japanese spot’s allure, though, is that it follows through on the promise of a scene, all while serving delicious Hokkaido specialties. You might witness your server bum a cigarette from a diner with a tiny purse on the sidewalk, or accidentally lock eyes with someone you deem an internet ingénue. Equally captivating - or perhaps more so depending on your interest in Cool Downtown Life - will be a table filled with plates of smoky salmon jerky, fresh crab, and squid stuffed with uni rice.
Our favorite approach to eating at Dr. Clark is to bring four-ish people for a group dinner at a dark booth inside or a covered kotatsu table on the sidewalk. Start with some natural wine or a frosty glass of Sapporo, then build your meal like you’re the event planner of a seafood parade. We particularly love the bowl of kaisen featuring sweet crab, assorted salmon and tuna sashimi, roe, cucumber, radish, uni, and steamed egg - all laid over sushi rice so delicately cooked you can taste each grain. Even if your diet resembles that of a grizzly bear, Dr. Clark’s plate of smoky-sweet salmon jerky (a practice common within Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu communities) will likely outshine all the salmon you have loved before.
When you inspect the rest of Dr. Clark’s menu, you might feel compelled to try the restaurant’s headliner jingisukan - a barbecue dish popular in Sapporo that involves cooking thinly-sliced mutton or lamb tableside on a skillet shaped like an upside-down bowl (said to mimic a warrior’s helmet). Dr. Clark’s jingisukan is worth ordering for the sheer purpose of getting front row seats to a lamb-and-crunchy-onion grilling show, especially if you supplement your meat with mushrooms and yaki udon that get cooked in all of the sticky, sweet leftover lamb and vegetable juices. But after a couple visits, we consistently found our lamb to be overdone. Either keep a close eye on the meat as the server grills it tableside, or focus the bulk of your attention on the seafood dishes mentioned above.
In another world (without luxurious crab or bites of exploding salmon roe), Dr. Clark would probably be an eye-roll restaurant full of people who are dying to tell you about their renovated one-bedroom apartment in Chinatown and the next cool thing. But the quality of Dr. Clark’s Hokkaido specialties makes its coolness substantive and exciting. So you and your friends can feel on-trend and full of exceptional fish all at once.
Squid Stuffed With Uni Rice
Much like caviar or gold leaves, uni sometimes shows up on menus for the sole purpose of making a dish feel like it comes with the keys to a Maserati. In the case of Dr. Clark’s squid, the saline taste of uni isn’t for show. It adds depth and richness to the charred rice and chewy squid, like the three ingredients were destined to be together.
Crisp, cold, spicy - this is a perfect, unassuming $6 salad. Especially since the rough-chopped pieces of green cabbage have enough body to hold their own against a lemony, chili-mayo dressing. “Addictive” is Dr. Clark’s word, not ours, but they’re not wrong.
As far as we’re concerned, Dr. Clark could operate a jerky outpost and we would happily write a full-length review of the salmon’s smokiness and soft texture. There’s a ton of salmon to be eaten in restaurants around NYC, but this dried fish (a specialty of Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu communities) will forever stand out in our memory as one of the best. Each order comes with three pieces.
Risotto Omelette with Crab & Ikura
Hokkaido is known for its stunningly good crab, and we feel strongly that you should try it in at least one form or another while at Dr. Clark. Imagine a giant maki roll with soft-sweet omelette on the outside, crab-laden rice in the middle, and salty salmon roe sitting on top.
Like a sexy, painter’s palette of raw fish, only you can eat it without fear of rebuke from your art teacher. The selection of fish changes depending on when you order this deluxe chirashi bowl, but you’ll almost certainly see delicate salmon, glistening roe, and mounds of uni (as well as sweet steamed egg squares, radish, and other greens). You’re going to be distracted by the sexy fish, but don’t ignore the sweet soy sauce on the side. It only enhances the buttery, pure flavor of the rice and its toppings.
We recommend ordering this thinly-sliced barbecue lamb dish if you’re with a group of people who like meat parties. Dr. Clark grills each order tableside as long as you choose at least two mains. Try the classic lamb (which is marinated for several days in a sweet sauce), vegetables, as well as the yaki udon add-on. First, your server will grill the vegetables and lamb alongside a mixture of crunchy marinated onions and bean sprouts. Then, act two: the noodles get to soak up all the extra flavor from the first shift of cooking.