David Seigal was an equity research analyst for the investment bank Bear Stearns in New York until 2001, when the Sept. 11 attacks necessitated a career shift that led him to the world of restaurants.
Now he’s the chef at Cull & Pistol, a new seafood restaurant that’s part of the renovated Lobster Place in New York’s Chelsea Market, which sells wholesale and retail seafood, as well as sushi, clam chowder and the like. Cull & Pistol — a cull is a lobster that’s missing one claw; a pistol is a lobster missing both claws — is a full-service restaurant where Seigal makes use of the seafood available to him and his own considerable cooking experience. The menu ranges from whole steamed lobster to fish tacos to Connecticut-style lobster rolls, served warm with drawn butter and lemon, and Maine-style lobster rolls, served cold with mayonnaise and scallions.
After being laid off from Bear Stearns in October 2001 he waited tables at a restaurant across the street from his apartment in Manhattan’s West Village. He also cleaned fish for free at the restaurant in his spare time. Plus, as a native of Long Island’s South Shore, Seigal worked on a fishing boat during summers in college, had an affinity for fish and thought he ought to teach himself a new career.
He cajoled his way into Charlie Palmer’s Aureole and its now-closed sister restaurant, Metrazur, and went on to work for chefs Gray Kunz, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and David Bouley.
“In every position, I was always in over my head and it forced me to learn,” he said. “It’s a visceral, hands-on kind of thing.”
Before opening Cull & Pistol at the end of April he discussed the menu with Nation’s Restaurant News.
What are you going to serve at the restaurant?
The focus of the menu emphasizes the breadth of product and quality available at The Lobster Place. We’re trying to stay away from [typical items like] tuna, swordfish and salmon.
I don’t think people realize the variety of fish that swim near here and how it changes with the seasons. It’s not just striped bass, flounder, cod and clams. You can get swordfish, tuna, shark.
We might have some Spanish mackerel that’s delicious and sustainable, or different cuts like yellowtail collar. We’ll have Long Island clam toast with steamed littleneck clams, bacon, caramelized shallots and aïoli on grilled sourdough.
We’ll have whole lobster, steamed or split in half and grilled; head-on prawns wrapped in jamon Iberico; and fideis negros — broken angel hair pasta, braised sepia, sofrito, garlic aïoli, green pepper, fish stock and squid ink. It was taught to me by the owner’s aunt on the Costa Brava [in northeastern Spain].
We’ll eventually serve salmon. The best way I’ve learned to cook it is a Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] technique. If you cook it at a 225° [Fahrenheit] in a convection oven, it will fall apart, and if you make it that way it’s as delicious as any fish.
I foresee a smoked bluefish salad at some point.
Will you have a raw bar?
When you walk in you’ll see a pretty sizeable raw bar display. We’ll have a dozen types of oysters, crab claws, chilled lobster, shrimp cocktail, littleneck clams, and cherrystone clams.
What kinds of oysters do you like?
I like Damariscotta River oysters [from Maine]. Winter Point, Glidden Point, Pemaquid — those are all Damariscotta River oysters. It has a massive tide change and the oysters have deep cups and they’re firm, meaty and briny.
For hot oyster dishes I like Moon Shoal oysters from Rhode Island. We put some triple cream cheese and crispy speck on them. Then we put them in the broiler just to melt the cheese. Then you slurp them down and it’s an awesome bite.
Will you use products from other Chelsea Market retailers?
We’re going to feature some products from Dickson’s Smoked Meats, like bacon and Tasso ham, and bread from Amy’s Bread. Your dessert treat that arrives with the check is from L’Arte del Gelato.
Will you change the menu of The Lobster Place’s takeout window, Shack in the Back?
It used to only have cold food like lobster rolls, shrimp rolls and a crab club. Now it will have fried belly clams, steamers and oyster po’ boys.
What’s the best fish you’ve ever had?
The single best piece of fish I ever ate was swordfish belly. It was, like, an 80-pound fish that we caught, and I just cooked it with brown butter, meunière style. It was awesome. But the availability’s not there [to serve it in a restaurant].