If you've spent any time dining at Providence, Michael Cimarusti's Melrose Avenue seafood palace, you'll know how much the chef and co-owner of the place loves his fish. Since it opened in 2005, the restaurant has earned accolade after accolade, including Best Restaurant, 2012 in these pages. But for all of its myriad charms, Providence is hardly the kind of low-brow fish shack that Cimarusti loved going to as a kid, when he spent summers visiting his grandparents in Rhode Island, fishing and eating lobsters and steamers along Narragansett Bay.
So it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that when Cimarusti started to plan a second restaurant, his thoughts turned to the clam houses of his childhood. Connie & Ted's, named after Cimarusti's maternal grandparents, will open its enormous doors in early June.
The 140-seat restaurant is a nicely cavernous place, jutting up from behind a parking lot (where you can actually park, although there will also be valet) along a busy section of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Cimarusti and his partners in the new restaurant, which include his wife and business partner, Crisi Echiverri, Providence co-owner Donato Poto, and Amy Spector Nickoloff and Craig Nickoloff, spent months having the place reconstructed, knocking out everything but three exterior walls of the previous building.
Connie & Ted's will be staffed, also unsurprisingly, by lots of folks from Providence -- which is conveniently only 2.5 miles away -- including Sam Baxter, formerly Providence chef de cuisine; Laura Lindsay, who will run the cocktail program; and many of the cooks, who will be working at both restaurants as days off and schedules allow.
The open kitchen, which includes a wood-burning grill and many shiny toys from Viking, segues into a fish-cutting station, a lobster tank (for Maine lobsters, Dungeness crabs, Santa Barbara spot prawns), an oyster bar and refrigerated, custom-made oyster cases. "It's essentially like a giant sushi case," Cimarusti said the other day, pausing to give an ad hoc tour amid the controlled chaos of a restaurant a few weeks away from opening.
There will be 16 kinds of oysters, both East and West Coast varieties, served at Connie & Ted's. That Cimarusti is fond of oysters also is apparent from the walls, which sport wallpaper made from thousands of oyster tags the chef has collected over the years, mostly from shucking them at Providence.
On the menu, look for all those oysters, also three kinds of chowder (clear, New England, Manhattan), two kinds of lobster rolls (hot and cold), steaks (see: experiments in surf and turf) and lobsters in as many iterations as Cimarusti deems appropriate, including whole grilled lobster and steamed with drawn butter. The bread for the burgers and lobster rolls and whatever else will all be baked in-house. And for dessert, look for Indian pudding, chocolate box cake, Whoopie pies, blondies and sherbets from Providence pastry chef David Rodriguez.
To wash down all this lovely stuff, there will be about 40 wines available from California and the Pacific Northwest, classic cocktails -- and beer, lots and lots of beer.
"I'm a huge hophead now," Cimarusti says, pointing out the kegs in the back room and the taps in the front, situated conveniently between the wooden oyster boxes in the refrigerated case and the La Marzocco espresso machine. The many beers on tap will all be California-brewed, with the perfectly understandable exception of Boston-brewed Sam Adams, because some of us wax nostalgic around Maine lobsters, don't we. And yes, there will be nitro taps.
"We're just trying to do it right," Cimarusti says. "Pay homage to the cuisine and execute it as it should be, have fun."
The last point is not lost when you look around the restaurant, or rather look up inside the restaurant, where you will see, at night, that the lights embedded in the ceiling around the bar form actual constellations. (See: latitude sailing, or maybe drunk fishing.)
Or when you consider that on the chefs' jackets, under the "Connie & Ted's," there is a line that says "Est. 1940." This is not, of course, about the actual restaurant, which is set to open the first week of June. It is, rather, a further homage to the real Connie and Ted, who married in 1940. (Cimarusti is trying to get his widowed grandmother, who is 93, to come out for the opening.) Because a Michelin-starred chef who opens a clam shack should have, maybe must have, a highly developed sense of humor.
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