Friday, June 10, 2005
Where Everybody Knows Your Name: Oyster House Saloon
My coworkers and I have been eyeing this place for a little while now, an inconspicuous neighborhood joint on Studio City's Moorpark St. with a blue awning. Its name "Oyster House Saloon" is painted on the side of the small building in blue and white to match its awning; under its name, in smaller letters, a small claim to fame: "Voted Best Seafood in Los Angeles." By whom, we don't know, but we wouldn't have noticed it otherwise. There's never anyone outside, there are no windows you can look into (there is only one small one-way glass window out front), and it doesn't really advertise anywhere.
I'd even posted a question on Chowhound asking if anyone had ever been to this place. Only one guy wrote back but with great things to say, both about the food and the atmosphere.
OK, we're there.
It's been a couple of months since we first started talking about this place, and since we had planned a Girls-Day-Out (me and my homegirls at work only, no bosses, political associations, or weirdo eaters) for today's lunch, we decided we finally had to do our debut visit. It was a warm, hazy but bright San Fernando Valley afternoon; we entered through the blue, nautical looking front door into a narrow, dark & divey room with 80's rock playing. On one side, a long bar. On the other, several round bar tables lined up along the wall. "Anywhere you'd like," said the eccentric-looking bartender, so we grabbed one of the bar tables along the wall. One of my friends, a Florida native, suddenly got sentimental: "Aww, this place reminds me of home." We loved this place already.
Eccentric bartender guy waited on the whole place, jumping back and forth from the bar to the tables to the kitchen with ease and still managing to engage in friendly, although odd conversations with all of his customers, including us. After looking over the plastic placemat menus and munching on a surprisingly good combination of bread and balsamic dressing, he asked if the ladies needed a few more minutes or if we were ready to rock. So we ordered (rocked) and afterwards were treated to his "Joke of The Day," a corny PG-13 joke about senior citizens. We looked around the room and saw that the other customers, older locals having lunch and a drink at the bar, were having just as good of a time with this kook as we were.
The ultimate dive: kooky waiter and all...
The Oyster House Saloon's menu is pretty simple. Seafood and pasta seem to rule, but there are also a handful of Italian chicken dishes, salads, and appetizers to choose from. Oysters, surprisingly, are not abundant on the menu, although the few oyster appetizers they do offer--oysters parmesan, oysters rockarthur, and oyster shooters sounded extremely appetizing. We opted not to do any oysters for lunch today (do we see an oyster happy hour in our future, perhaps?) but chose instead to get some of their other seafood dishes.
Their fried calamari was good, made with fresh squid that was both chewy and tender. Tentacles were included, which made me *happy* as eating the rings all by themselves is way too boring. The batter was crisp, with a hint of garlic flavor.
Battered tomato slices topped the crabcakes we ordered, which fooled us into thinking there were four crabcakes. A-ha! Tomato trickery! Sneaky fuckers were trying to disguise themselves with crabcake costumes! Well, they didn't fool us for long, but managed to convince us skeptics that it made for a surprisingly good combination. I've always thought crabcakes in general were a bit on the dry side, so even though the ones at this place were tasty--almost hushpuppy-like, the tomatoes added some much needed moisture and zing. A brown gravy-like lobster sauce was also drizzled over the whole thing, making it even more interesting.
The star of the seafood potion of the menu is "Our Famous Monte Carlo Bouillabaisse." Well, we had to try anything that is dubbed "our famous," is the first item in a list, and is in all caps, right? Admittedly, I've never tried this fish and seafood stew of Provencal origins before, so I have nothing to judge it by, but the Oyster House Saloon's is good. We oohed and aahed as the huge bowl of fresh seafood--mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp, and fish--bathed in a clear broth with carrots and celery was placed in front of us. I was expecting to taste more saffron, a key ingredient to bouillabaisse, in the broth, so needless to say, the liquid lacked flavor in my opinion. It was a pleasure, however, eating all the various jewels of the sea that were in it. A more flavorful broth was the one in which our steamed clams lay. This one was made with white wine, parsley, olive oil, and lots of garlic, and although a bit on the salty side, blew us away. Near the end of our meal, we still had a few clams and a bit of the bouillabaisse left, so being that we are four very creative girls, we decided to mix a little of the bouillabaise broth with some of the clam broth to finish up the leftovers. And it was perfect. The bouillabaisse broth mellowed out the saltiness of the clam broth, and the clam broth added some needed kick to the bouillabaisse. Our basket o'bread came very much in handy to mop up our delicious broth mixture.
Their Famous Monte Carlo Bouillabaisse
Looney waiter dude is also our new best friend. "Do you ladies drink?" he asked quickly, as he was clearing some of our plates, then walked away. "Huh???" we asked each other, laughing. When we were finally done with everything, he came over with four shot glasses and a bottle of something obviously alcoholic. "Hope you ladies like this. It's homemade peach vodka, on the house." Heavenly. We are sooooo coming back here.
We didn't want to leave, but we decided that if we ever wanted to live the good life like all of the retiree couples in there enjoying stiff drinks over lunch, we had to go back to work. It was soon time to surface from our dark, divey lunch playground. We opened the door to go outside and...bright light, bright light! Dive bar goin'-seafood eatin'-gals gone, disintegrated. Hard working, business oriented working girls back. But only on the outside, never on the inside. Like I said, we'll be back.
Oyster House Saloon
12446 Moorpark St.
Studio City, CA 91604