5 New York Ave., Long Beach, 516-517-2828
SERVICE: Informal but professional
AMBIENCE: Convivial and flip-flop friendly
ESSENTIALS: Open Monday and Wednesday 3 to 10 p.m. (closed Tuesday), Thursday to Saturday noon to 11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., wheelchair accessible, street parking
Located at the dead end of an unprepossessing residential block that putters out onto the beach, Five Ocean is the sort of place you stumble upon and then can’t believe your good fortune. Forgive me for short-circuiting the serendipity and just telling you outright: this is a terrific restaurant.
The vibe could not be more casual — plates and glasses are plastic (though sturdy and elegant as plastic can be), cushion-less seating is at an assortment of wood-topped tables and a poured-concrete counter looks directly into the open kitchen.
In that kitchen, often alone, is Craig Attwood, who, after toiling at such vaunted Manhattan spots as Judson Grill and Veritas, led a number of high-end LI restaurants, East Hampton Point and Jedediah Hawkins in Jamesport among them. He is not slumming in Long Beach but, rather, bringing his all experience and passion to bear on the modest surroundings.
The menu is resolutely seasonal and changes often. But no matter what the chef is doing with clams, order it. On my first visit I could not get enough of the luxuriant clam-corn chowder; the next time, the littleneck clams had been steamed in a golden broth made smoky with bacon.
Another winning starter was the crabcake, the rare specimen made almost entirely from … crab, but given a cheffy touch by its undertone of fresh tarragon and protective moat of piquillo-pepper aioli.
An autumnal salad of apples, blue cheese and mixed greens that could have gone cutesy-sweet was held in check by the sweet, creaminess of the cheese, the bitterness of frisee and the crisp freshness of sliced-to-order Gala apples.
The star of Attwood’s mains is unquestionably the buttermilk fried chicken, two mahogany-crusted boneless thighs that shared a big, low-sided galvanized steel bucket with a peppy purple cabbage-apple slaw and hand-cut fries dusted with Old Bay seasoning. This is not coming off the menu anytime soon, nor will the Angus burger, another winner that provides another opportunity to indulge in the fries.
Pastas, though generous, were only OK. The three-way marriage of shrimp, squash and orecchiette did nothing for any of the participants, nor did the rigatoni, oversauced with pork ragu, rise far above the level of a good family-style Italian.
Despite the name and the location, Five Ocean is not a fish restaurant per se, but the chef is committed to using as much locally caught seafood as he can. One night the “market fish” was ruby-hued tuna fronting an autumnal band of mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and parsnip puree that, unfortunately, drowned out the lead. Expertly seared scallops were perched on a bed of mushroom risotto with cubes of winter squash garnished with brown-butter-fried sage.
There’s no denying Attwood’s skill at manipulating his ingredients, but the familiar routine of seared something atop a bed of soft something garnished with a something drizzle seems both old-fashioned and out of step with the super-casual environment. Neither of the two dinner entrees were as satisfying as the grilled fish tacos I had at lunch. (The summertime garnish of shaved radish has given way, I understand, to fried Brussels sprout leaves, apple and avocado.)
A one-and-half-man kitchen doesn’t have a lot of resources to put into dessert, but Attwood’s chocolate pot de crème, garnished with a quenelle of barely sweetened whipped cream and lightly salt-glazed almonds is perfection. If it's not available, skip the clunky apple galette in favor of a cup of the best apple cider I’ve ever had. Here’s why: Attwood starts by toasting spices, caramelizing them and adding heavy cream and good cider from upstate. This gets steeped and strained and then fortified by a method I’m not going to disclose — even though I wouldn't mind if other restaurants copied it.
Curling up with a cup of cider (spiked with rum or virgin) is one of the pleasures of Five Ocean in autumn, when flip-flops give way to sweatshirts. Soon the dune-side patio will close for the season and I’m hoping the storm windows are well sealed and that Atwood invests in what I call an insta-bule (a windproof, double-doored plastic chamber that can be stuck onto the existing entrance) so that the restaurant is just as appealing during coldest days of winter.