Yes, octopuses are in the same zoological class as squid and cuttlefish, but how come they taste so much better? Not easy to prepare, the eight-armed, nine-brained, blue-blooded denizen of the deep must be tenderized first, legendarily in the Greek tradition by being hit against a rock. Then it’s grilled, poached, or baked until the tentacles (more properly, six arms and two legs) are just the right consistency: gluey, oozy, and rubbery.
It’s one of my favorite things to eat, and if it’s also one of yours, read on. The following restaurants are in ranked order, and you might just want to eat your way down (or up) the list.
5. Loukoumi Taverna
A little off the beaten track as far as Astorian Greek restaurants go, with an elegant dining room more modern than most, Loukoumi turns out a memorable octopus app. Marinated in red wine vinegar for sharpness, the octopus is grilled over flame, producing patches of char here and there, then dressed with odiferous olive oil. The tentacles remain relatively firm, so chewing is required, which enhances the flavor of the animal as far as I’m concerned and delivers more smoky enjoyment. 45-07 Ditmars Boulevard, between 45th and 46th streets, Astoria
4. El Paso Taqueria
Now that you’ve vigorously embraced Tijuana fish tacos heaped with fried fish and shredded cabbage, go one step further and try the octopus tacos from this rather obscure Carnegie Hill Mexican restaurant, not to be confused with the nearby El Paso Restaurante Mexicano. These tacos are more often found on Mexico’s Atlantic coast, and feature extensively tenderized tentacles heaped with cilantro, purple onions, shredded cabbage, and a rudimentary tomato salsa. Arriving with lemon instead of lime, they also beg to be anointed with the red or green hot sauce provided. 64 E. 97th Street, between Madison and Park avenues, Carnegie Hill
3. Tomi Jazz
Have you ever considered downing octopus raw? Well, Japan offers it in sushi bars — and in New York, it’s available at this underground jazz club, which evokes Greenwich Village dives of the 1960’s. The menu is very much like that of an izakaya, and one of the most interesting and cheapest dishes thereon is the $5 octopus. How can it be so cheap? Well it’s a small bowlful of tidbits flavored with wasabi and shiso, and the terrain is gooey and stringy and slightly sweet. You’ll love octopus all over again as soon as you try it. Or not. 239 E. 53rd Street, between Second and Third avenues, Midtown East
There are few contexts more pleasing for fresh seafood than an Ecuadorian ceviche. For one thing, there’s the tartness conferred by the lemon juice marinade, shot with onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. A periscope of fried plantain replies to the octopus’s squish with a resounding crunch. Finally, the cooling broth demands to be drunk as a refreshing coda to consuming the ceviche. This rollicking restaurant has an informal front room and a formal rear room with waiter service, although maybe formal isn’t quite the right word. 1685 Amsterdam Avenue, at 143rd Street, Hamilton Heights
1. Seabra’s Marisqueira
Few nationalities have as much respect for the octopus as the Portuguese. This wonderful restaurant, a few blocks from the PATH train terminus at Newark’s Pennsylvania Station, specializes in seafood. Sit in the blue tiled barroom in front rather than the stuffy dining room in the rear, and enjoy the region’s best octopus, tendered in a mellow salad. The ample arms are cut in cross section and drenched with a thick vinaigrette dotted with parsley and garlic, but the taste and texture of the octopus shines through. 87 Madison Street, at Ferry Street, Newark