A Real Catch
Toast Poseidon and the fruits of the sea at Ocean House
Croton’s Chamber of Commerce should be giving Ocean House a kickback. On a recent Friday evening, my dining companions and I not only toured the town but patronized another restaurant to sustain us during our wait for a table at the no-reservations eatery.
Did I say wait? It was more like a sabbatical. We spent the good part of the hour and a half a few doors down at Honey’s Bar, where we nibbled fried zucchini sticks and some pretty awesome Buffalo wings—but that’s another review. In any case, not your standard prelude to seared sea scallops and roasted skate, but with the edge off our hunger, we hustled back and were finally seated.
The place is tiny: 10 paper-topped tables and a five-seat bar. But that bar is granite, the sconces chic, the seascapes lovely. Benches, cushioned in blue-and-white striped chintz, run along sandy-colored walls with white trim; above the bar, a chalkboard features the night’s specials. If a seafood shack met Ralph Lauren, this would be it.
Charming, yes, but I can’t take my eyes off that chalkboard. I see wild striped bass, I see grilled branzino, I see Washington State Malaspina and Pebble Beach oysters. We swirl our white Burgundy—our own, since Ocean House has no liquor license—and toast Poseidon for his gifts. Chef Brian Galvin gets a hosanna, too.
And boy, are we graced. Those oysters sing of the Pacific depths. Smoky, tender rings of grilled calamari bask in lemon and olive oil. There’s a tiered gold beet-and-goat cheese timbale, splayed like petals in an O’Keefe study. Alluring, but I miss the crunch and dimension of its promised toasted pecans. Nothing’s missing in Chef Galvin’s clam chowder, however. Only the Nantucket air could improve this perfect balance of shellfish, potato, thyme, bacon, and cream.
Brian Galvin worked in a fish market during high school and cooked for years at Bedford’s Bistro 22, where he favored fish dishes. His passion shows in an expertly grilled filet of wild salmon, its richness tempered by a roasted tomato and basil butter. The subtlety of sea scallops is vitalized by lemon, mustard, and a jolt of capers. I like my fish unadulterated but, if forced, my adulteration of choice would be Galvin’s Maine crab stuffing, served here with a titanic slab of roasted skate. There doesn’t seem to be much tarragon in its tarragon-lemon sauce but, frankly, with meat this succulent, I don’t much notice and don’t much care.
All of these entrÃ©es come with crisply sautÃ©ed broccolini and a mound of wild rice, though potatoes are also an option. A special of whole grilled branzino breaks that mold, its silken flesh galvanized by the crunch of Napa cabbage, the heat of wasabi-infused soy vinaigrette, and the sweetness of ginger.
Fish this fine is not left to chance; every day, Ocean House’s buyer braves the Fulton Fish Market’s pre-dawn chaos. But this is Ocean House, not Pastry House, so I won’t begrudge the mediocrity of the desserts. Flourless chocolate cake and crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e are on requisite duty, and the crimson fanned poached pear is overly chilled. Save your appetite for the warm crumble of the apple empanada with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.
OCEAN HOUSE OYSTER BAR & GRILL
49 N. Riverside Ave., Croton-on-Hudson
Dinner, Tue. to Sat. 5-10 pm, Sun. 5-9 pm