20 S. Station Plaza, Great Neck
SERVICE: Halting, uneven, friendly
AMBIENCE: Suburban hipster
ESSENTIALS: Open six days, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 10 p.m. weekends; closed Monday. Reservations only for 8 or more; major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible.
Element Seafood is the new arrival opposite the Great Neck railroad station, where earlier restaurants lasted slightly longer than the commute from Penn.
This one earns a longer run, with its appealing oyster bar upfront and a streamlined dining room just beyond. It’s full of repurposed wood, waterside photos, art of oyster shells, a chart illustrating mollusks.
So, either at the bar or in the main room, order a sampler of East Coast and West Coast oysters, lately starring creamy briny Wellfleets and sweet-smooth Kumamotos, as well as mild and satisfying Blue Points. There are plenty of beers to go with them, including excellent contributions from Barrier Brewing Co. in Oceanside and the Brooklyn Brewery.
The scene of contented slurpers suggests a stop at the bar tables is the ideal way to recover from any rush-hour miseries.
These preliminaries should put you in the right mood for Element’s finfish and shellfish dishes. The owners are seafood wholesalers and offer a tasty catch.
That starts with a fine, balanced New England-style clam chowder, which comes with the obligatory packet of Westminster Oyster Crackers.
The house’s tuna crudo is respectable, though overly decorated with sesame seeds and rounds of radish. Instead, try either the dependably generous, very traditional shrimp cocktail or the meaty, well-seasoned crabcake.
Skip the spongy, bland shrimp balls sent out afloat in soy-ginger broth; and the tepid, industrial-strength “crispy shrimp,” an anesthetized appetizer than can’t be revived with pasty, cardamom-tomato jam. Red snapper pho benefits from glass noodles and Thai basil, but it’s still overcooked and aswim in watery soup.
Element perks up again with flavorful main courses. The whole branzino is stuffed with a forest of thyme and rosemary that boost the often-boring bass. What’s billed as bouillabaisse stays closer to these shores than the Mediterranean but delivers enough saffron and fennel plus fresh seafood.
Seared tuna, accented with white beans and black olives, is a hefty, sliced steak that could be rosier but will do. Salmon shows up boosted by a soy-ginger glaze and pickled shiitake mushrooms And the ample entree of fish and chips has the right crunch and moist, snowy, flaky cod.
If anyone who can’t stand seafood has been brought here, Element also prepares a tender, marinated and grilled chicken breast, accompanied by jasmine rice, Provençal-style vegetables and chimichurri.
The best dessert is a lush bread pudding threaded with chocolate. In order, it’s followed by a husky, rich wedge of chocolate cake; a fruity but soggy spin on apple crisp; and a strawberry shortcake that announces it’s December.
Order carefully and you’ll enjoy Element Seafood at least as much as Katerina Ristorante Italiano — and a lot more than its other stationside memories.