SALT & BARREL
61 W. Main St., Bay Shore
SERVICE: Very good
AMBIENCE: Breezy and briny
ESSENTIALS: Open Monday and Wednesday 5 p.m. to midnight, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Sunday 3 to 10 p.m. Closed Tuesday. Weekend reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted.
Sharp as a shucking knife, Salt & Barrel makes most of Long Island’s oyster and clam houses look like the old shell game.
The sleek newcomer is exactly what’s needed in downtown Bay Shore, as well as in communities east and west. Free of clichés, from table to décor, it’s a refreshing reminder of what could be when the harpoons, lobster traps and plastic shellfish are retired.
Salt & Barrel is owned by the Flynn family, which has operated Flynn’s at Ocean Bay Park on Fire Island for decades. Chef Alexander Williamson, whose experience includes Morimoto and Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan, here prepares a refined take on the traditional oyster bar and seafood establishments that you always seek and rarely find.
Clean lines, subtle hues and artwork of octopuses mark the main dining room; a handsome bar for drinks and a buoyant oyster bar are separated from it by a double-sided fireplace and a small library devoted to elemental topics such as seafood and bourbon. Salt & Barrel is subtitled an “oyster and craft cocktail bar.”
The drinking is very good, whether you want cocktails or one of the well-chosen beers, which recently included Icculus, a kölsch-style winner from Oceanside’s Barrier Brewing Co., and Allagash of Maine’s Curieux, a bourbon-barrel aged tripel.
There’s a rotating list of excellent East and West Coast oysters, and shellfish towers that may include clams, shrimp, whole lobster, tuna tartare. You contentedly could stop right there, downing Kumamotos and Hama Hamas, Katamas and Beaver Tails, Sexton Blondes and Blue Points.
But also be sure to sample the warm lobster roll, loaded with butter-poached lobster. Bigeye tuna tartare arrives mixed with avocado, jalapeños and lime, served with papadum, the spicy, thin Indian crackers, for a diverting but over-orchestrated choice.
Baked clam toast, a savory opener of good, toasted bread topped with chopped clams, brown butter and parsley, stands out. So do charred baby octopus accented with sherry vinegar; and the crisp rock shrimp spurred by mild Fresno chili pepper, charred lemon and spicy mayo. The house’s tasty clam chowder is paired with a hefty roasted marrow bone capped with parsley for a spirited riff on surf-and-turf. Order the house-made tarragon biscuits, too.
The “sea pot” of mussels finished with bourbon, cream, scallion and burnt orange is a bit dry. Compare it with the dashi-steamed clams, boosted by Kaffir lime, sweet sausage and green onion.
A daily “dock to table” special stars with seared, rosy bigeye tuna and spring vegetables. The overly curried crabcake trails it. Plump, nutty, sweet seared scallops are complemented by black beluga lentils, pearl onions and ras el hanout, the North African spice. The more risk-averse will enjoy the main dish of salmon, with a saffron-fennel puree.
For the landlocked, Salt & Barrel prepares juicy chicken flecked with yellow mustard seeds; and ginger-beer braised short ribs with a vanilla-touched parsnip puree.
Finales range from bacon-bourbon chocolate chunk cookies to butterscotch pudding with toasted cashews; seven-layer coconut-cloud cake to a lemon-curd parfait, each refreshing and on point.
Just like Salt & Barrel.