Last week I accepted an invitation to experience the newly opened Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House which recently opened in Port Chester just over the Greenwich border. Located in the beautifully restored Willet House Building which has been redesigned and transformed into a bright contemporary restaurant with a wealth of historic nautical charm. The bar area, vibrant, energetic and spacious has a modern yet traditional feel. An impressive raw bar sits at the center, welcoming patrons as they settle in ready to place their drink orders. Two televisions sit on the opposite side of the bar so that sports enthusiasts can cheer on their favorite teams. The dining room, despite its grand and impressive size, is warm and welcoming. The antique hay lifts and wood beams retain the space’s history. Handsome black and white photographs of fishermen at sea capture authentic coastal life. The elegant yet rustic lighting casts a warm glow off the brick. The restaurant isn’t quiet; a lively energy permeates the air.
Owner Leslie “Les” Barnes is a second generation seafood buyer and aquaculture buff who has, over the years, developed deep-rooted relationships with the best fishermen from Rhode Island to the Jersey Shore. He knows his oysters. He knows his fish – and only the best will do.
One should typically have oysters at an oyster house and while my dining partner and I both adore them, we wanted to sample the varied and creative menu. Executive Chef Bobby Will, CIA trained, is a seafood aficionado with roots in Coastal New England. He focuses on simplicity – minimal preparations are used so that the diner can enjoy the natural flavor of the fresh seafood and fish. We began with the Red Snapper Ceviche and the Grilled Spanish Octopus. The Red Snapper Ceviche with charred lime, sorrel verde and sweet potato puree was delightful. The meat was tender and sweet. There was a slight hint of charred lime. Some might think this is under-seasoned – as we’ve become accustomed to heavy seasonings and salt, to add any more flavor would take away from the integrity and freshness of this fish.
It is rare that I don’t order something with octopus. The octopus, in contrast to the ceviche, was bursting with a variety of flavors. The perfectly cooked and tender octopus itself had a nice strong charred flavor that was cooled by the watermelon-heirloom tomato salad and yogurt sauce. The crispy chick peas, added another layer of flavor and texture.
Following we ordered the Clam Chowder. Chowder bases vary from those that are broth-like to those so thick, a spoon can practically stand upright. This version seems to fit in someplace in the middle with definite hints of cream and butter. Clam chowder aficionados should rejoice here. A nice balance of bacon, clams and potatoes, this was one of the best chowders we’ve had locally.
As much as we wanted to polish off the soup, we needed to save room for The Fire Roasted Poblano Mussels with Tomato Salsa, Chorizo and Basil. A large metal pot was presented to us with an impressive pile of mussels within. The broth had a lovely smokiness from the chorizo. I wish this flavor had parlayed to the mussels which I thought were a tad bit bland. The chorizo and the salsa sat at the bottom of the pot and it took some work to dig them up. Perhaps it would have been easier if served in a shallower dish – The broth with its small bits of chorizo and salsa was really quite good and I would have loved to have been able to get to more of it.
On to the Main Plates – There was a nice but select choice of fish and seafood entrees. Plenty from which to choose but not so much as to overwhelm. We loved the Top of The Catch part of the menu where diners can create their own entrées by selecting from various items. Pick a fish, a sauce and two sides. The idea, we thought was pure genius. From fish we could choose from Florida Red Snapper, Sea Scallops, East Atlantic Halibut, Wild Pacific King Salmon, Fresh Florida Shrimp and Swordfish with a choice of Beurre Blanc, Smoky Tomato Relish or a Spicy Plum Glaze and a choice 2 Greens and Grains; Roasted Fingerling Tomatoes, Native Corn Celery Root Succotash, Whole Grain Brown Rice Pilaf, Collard Greens, Roasted Heirloom Carrots and Charred Cauliflower. We decided it would be fun to create our own – and that is what we did. I opted for the Seared Sea Scallops in a Beurre Blanc with the Native Corn Celery Root Succotash and the Charred Cauliflower. The Scallops were perfectly seared, near crispy on the exterior and very well flavored while the inside remained tender and sweet. The succotash and charred cauliflower, I thought, were the perfect accompaniment. The succotash was sweet and buttery, the cauliflower tender and perfectly caramelized. My dining partner ordered the Seared Atlantic Halibut au Beurre Blanc with Collard greens and Heirloom carrots. The halibut was firm yet flaky, perfectly cooked and seasoned and placed gently over a bed of the carrots and collard greens. It was presented beautifully and tasted as such as well.
As if we hadn’t had enough food… as if my pants weren’t about to burst at the seams. There was dessert. And while we tried to turn down this generous offer, we were told that they were simply too good to pass up. And weak under pressure with a terrible sweet tooth, I gave in to temptation… I’d have a taste. The decision was actually a difficult one but we finally selected the Pistachio Pound Cake and with Glazed Plums and Vanilla Gelato and the Spiced Cheese Cake with Caramel Apple Compote and Brown Butter Crumbs. While typically not a cheesecake fan, I loved the creativity of the caramel apple – The apple had a sweet lightness that complemented the slight saltiness and richness of the cheesecake. The pound cake, sweet, tender and moist soaked up the sweet plum juices… Pound cake, plums, vanilla gelato – a trifecta in my book. Next time I will do a much better job to save room for dessert!
The best dining experiences are those that are multi-sensory. In order for this to happen all the moving parts must come together in perfect fusion, and they do at Saltaire where not only is the food wonderful, but so is the venue where, despite its large size is both inviting and comforting.
Saltaire is located at 55 Abendroth Avenue in downtown Port Chester, NY. For more information or to make a reservation, call 914.939.2425 or visit www.saltaireoysterbar.com (reservations not required).