Just like the sparkling oysters it serves, I’m sure the new Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House in Port Chester will be great year-round and not just during “r” months (we all know that’s a myth now—at least when it comes to commercially harvested oysters—right?). But it feels particularly “of the moment” as we cling to summer’s last hurrah.
Smell the salt when you step out near the Byram River and look at the building from across the street—it was the Westchester Grain Company in 1903 (and later, acclaimed steak joint The Willett House). Owner Les Barnes, also the second-generation owner of iconic Queens seafood restaurant London Lennie’s, completely renovated the 7,200-square-foot, 30-foot-high, exposed-brick warehouse into tasteful hipness replete with the kind of aquatic details we eat up—nautical maps, model ships, cushions with marine motifs, and spherical chandeliers reminiscent of the Grand Central Oyster Bar.
The Saltaire #2
There is no better starter than their first cocktail (simply named Saltaire #2): vodka, cucumber juice, and basil yuzu with a seafoam-like cap of frothed salt water to complement your first briny bites. (Or skip to barrel-aged cocktails, such as My Mom’s Maple: bourbon, Vermont maple syrup, citrus, and a kick of chili bitters. They make just about everything from sodas to bitters themselves; there’s also a fleshed-out wine list and local beer on tap.)
Homemade cornbread arrives in a skillet. Oysters, still breathing the ocean, mingle with strands of seaweed on a shell-shaped plate with two choices of sauce: strawberry mignonette, house cocktail sauce, horseradish aioli, spicy melon and cucumber relish, and sorrel verde salsa. (The mignonette and especially the aioli were good, but a few drops of lemon are all I can bear to eat these with.) The raw bar offers what you’d expect, from towers to Maine crab claws by the piece, and if that’s your endpoint, you might want to sit at the Carrara marble bar, where you can stare at it all.
The homemade skillet cornbread with honey butter
Appetizers wade farther out—live sea scallop crudo with green apple jalapeño relish, extra virgin olive oil, and toasted poppy seeds; chilled lobster salad with brown butter hollandaise, pickled plums, herb salad, and brioche; fried Point Judith calamari with charred shishitos, pickled red Fresnos, and Thai basil. There’s good old New England clam chowder, and four wide-ranging styles of mussels in the pot. Arugula salad with pickled red beets is piled onto oozing local Burrata, with roasted fennel purée that tastes like it’s always belonged there.
The menu is printed daily. The one I looked at is a bit different from what I had last night, but there is the Rhode Island skate wing I chickened out on, and the Long Island blackfish I didn’t. Its sweet, slightly oily flesh enhanced by creamy celery root purée, roasted baby Brussels sprouts, smoked aoili, mustard emulsion, and a smattering of inspired “everything” granola just sounded too tempting. Three seasonal fish specials headline above other seared, grilled, and roasted catches prepared with your choice of sauce and sides. Whole roasted fish comes with a warning: “They Will Not be Filleted by the Chef or Tableside.” There’s lobster, of course (and landlubbers, there’s also chicken and a burger.)
Stay away landlubber, this is not chicken; this is the grilled swordfish in a yummy, spicy plum glaze.
Desserts are inventive: I had to lift the lid of a Mason jar to get to my chocolate pudding, topped with crystallized chocolate, salted mascarpone, strawberries, and basil gel—which made the dish.
Saltaire Fish House and Oyster Bar
55 Abendroth Ave, Port Chester
(914) 939-2425; http://saltaireoysterbar.com