06/11/18 11:52am

In Which I Lose My Barnacle Virginity at M. Wells

Catch of the day: gooseneck barnacles at M. Wells Steakhouse.

I’m a big fan of raw seafood and indulge in oysters, clams, and other more far-flung marine fare as often as my wallet and constitution permit. I’ve savored Korean meongge in Murray Hill—briny, orange fleshed sea squirt—and sweet live razor clams on the streets of Arthur Avenue, but one thing I never tried until last night was barnacles.

Whenever I treat myself to M. Wells Steakhouse, I sit at the bar facing the oyster shucking station. So I immediately noticed the chalkboard trumpeting barnacles in all caps.

Clearly Hugue Dufour is proud of his barnacles.

“They’re kind of like a cross between a lobster and clam,” the bartender said. “Very briny.” Naturally I wound up ordering them. Even though I was told they were “really cool looking purple things,” I had the image of the grey round numbers that grow on the hull of ships and piers fixed in my mind, and was quite surprised by the alien looking creatures presented before me.

Sitting atop a bed of ice in a little brown boat they resembled a cross between steamer clams and alligator toes. Known as gooseneck barnacles they’re steamed and served with a sidecar of brown butter, and they do indeed taste like the mutant love child of a lobster and a clam. The stalk was slightly chewy marine and sweet, and the tiny legs, which can be found in the shell do call to mind lobster.

“They haven’t been available for like four years,” Chef Hugue Dufour said. “I think there was some sort of embargo.” I don’t know anything about any embargo, but I did learn that he gets his gooseneck barnacles from Baja California, Mexico. They’re not cheap as harvesting them is very dangerous work that takes place amid slippery jagged rocks between crashing waves.

As I polished of the last barnacle I asked Dufour whether he was familiar with sea squirt. He said he hadn’t tried it. Chef Hugue, if you’re reading this may I humbly suggest a field trip to Murray Hill for a Korean seafood feast?

M. Wells, Steakhouse, 43-15 Crescent St, Long Island City, NY 11101

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