Consider the Oysterette 

Bivalvular (and other) pleasures on Ocean Avenue

Wednesday, Oct 14 2009

View more photos in Anne Fishbein's "Pleasures at Blue Point Oysterette" photo gallery.

When people ask about my favorite restaurant in New York, after the ritual banter about the game birds at Daniel and a bread-crumb soup I once had at Jean-Georges, it eventually comes down to the Pearl Oyster Bar, a lunch counter down in Greenwich Village that channels San Francisco’s ancient Swan Oyster Depot by way of coastal Maine. As at Swan, the impression is of worn surfaces and brusque big-city cheeriness, and the press of a hundred people staring holes into the back of your head so that they can take your place at the bar. It is easy enough to find a great $300 dinner in New York, which is a city that after all specializes in such things, but the cheap yet thorough satisfaction afforded by a half-dozen perfect Wellfleet oysters, a bowl of bacon-rich clam chowder and a proper lobster roll is pretty hard to beat.

And as the juxtaposition of scuffed tile with the tang of oyster liquor and spilled beer stirs atavistic memories of Swan in Californians who find themselves at Pearl, the stamped-tin ceilings and elbow-to-elbow crush of the new BP Oysterette on Ocean Avenue awaken the reptilian brains of people who have been to Pearl, which shares the sweaty cooks, the cold glasses of pinot gris and the clean funk of seafood fried in fresh oil. The walls are covered with seagrass at BP Oysterette; a discreet flatscreen shows vintage big-wave surfing videos; the seaside kitsch is both understated and half a century old, so that you could perhaps convince yourself that the restaurant was a survivor from the early Pacific Ocean Park amusement pier era rather than a wholly new creation. The handful of patio tables are especially nice on a warm October afternoon.

click to enlarge ANNE FISHBEIN - Rockin’ the lobster roll

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The restaurant is small and doesn’t take reservations — there are often more people waiting outside than eating at one of the scant few banquette tables or sitting at the seafood bar — but the woman monitoring the list will cheerfully take your cell-phone number so that you can wander across the street to look at the ocean or down a few blocks to Copa d’Oro for a delicious cocktail without worrying about losing your place in line.

Oysterette is little sister to Blue Plate, a brunchy big-salad joint in the Montana Avenue area of Santa Monica, which is a diner perhaps better known for its breakfast-all-day aesthetic than for the pancakes and veggie wraps it happens to serve. Oysterette is a bit more ambitious culinarily, but has the same Westside vibe; not just the brown rice or the tasty Allagash White Ale on tap, but the availability of grilled chicken, Greek salad, steamed artichokes and kobe-beef hot dogs in a restaurant devoted to seafood, the KCRW-tasteful music on the sound system, and the general Montana Avenue look that tends to disappear once you get east of Bundy.

An oyster bar lives and dies with its oysters, of course, and Oysterette’s are quite good, impeccably fresh creatures from New England, Puget Sound and British Columbia for the most part but including delicious Bahia Falsas from near Ensenada and Luna oysters from Carlsbad, quivering and cold, expertly opened, served on big platters of ice. Raw littleneck clams? Great. Raw oyster “ceviche’’ drizzled with a little lime and chile? Wonderful. The oysters Rockefeller may not be to your taste unless you like your bivalves interred in middens of cream, cheese and spinach, but the raw shellfish is worth a trip.

I like the fish sandwich — its composition changes with the day’s haul, but the one I had included briefly seared ahi, ripe tomatoes and a spicy, lemony remoulade. The pan-seared ling cod with lemon and capers was fine. (A blackboard lists the half-dozen species available each day, most of them from the sustainable side of the spectrum.) The fish tacos, half a pound of grilled mahi mahi plopped into corn tortillas with aioli — guacamole and chopped salsa on the side — bear no resemblance to anything you might find in Mexico, but are no worse for that.

The fried seafood has tended to be a disaster — leaden calamari, soggy fish and chips, and a heavy, overdone mixed-seafood plate. The mussels were, as the New York critic Seymour Britchky used to say, perhaps too long from the sea.

But the default order here is probably the lobster roll, a rendition of the New England beach-shack standard, and it is pretty good: fresh lobster meat chopped medium-fine, tossed with minced aromatics and bound with a lemony mayonnaise, tucked into a puffy, slightly sweet hunk of brioche, served with an immoderately large paper cone of fries. And there are hot fudge sundaes for dessert.

BP Oysterette: 1355 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 576-FISH, blueplatesantamonica.com. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer, wine and sake. Valet parking after 5 p.m. AE, D, MC, V. Recommended dishes: oysters; fish sandwich; lobster roll; bread pudding.

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