Are You Gonna Eat That? The Oval Room’s Blood Clams


The Dish: Blood Clams

Price: $12-$15 (price may vary)

Where to Get It: The Oval Room, 800 Connecticut Ave. NW; (202) 463-8700;

What It Is: These mollusks earned their ominous name because hemoglobin turns their liquid a reddish hue. Originally a Chinese favorite, they’re now cultivated off the coast of Maine and Mexico’s Baja region. Slightly larger than many of their bivalve brethren, newly appointed executive chef John Melfi calls them “a clam person’s clam.”

What It Tastes Like: Melfi takes his prep cues from El Salvador, where the clams are prepared ceviche-style with lime and Thai chilies. The finely diced flesh is mostly smooth, though there are still some slightly chewy bits (but nothing that distracts). First, you’ll taste the acidic pop of the citrus, followed by an oceanic salinity accented with kelp. Finally, there’s a hint of heat at the back of your throat.

The Story: “No one has them … and there’s this ‘Oh my God, what is this?’ element, which catches peoples’ attention,” says Melfi. The chef has served them in the past, most recently during his tenure at Fiola Mare, where José Andrés came in and downed half a dozen of them in a single session. “They do freak some people out,” admits Melfi, who has tried offering them several different ways and refers to them on the menu by their less sanguine name, Mangrove Cockles. The shellfish are delivered fresh every Thursday and served until they sell out, which is often before the next shipment comes in.

How to Eat It: The stark white shells are mottled with black hair and presented on a snowbank of salt dappled with flower petals and peppercorns. Each bivalve basin holds a small mound of blood clam ceviche, which can be consumed with a fork or a spoon. Don’t even think about slurping these daintily presented delicacies.

Photo by Nevin Martell