A taste of the sea

Leslie and Elizabeth Barnes have transformed an 18th-century granary (later home to the Willett House restaurant) into a virtual haven for seafood seekers along the banks of the Byram River in Port Chester.

Transcending the typical oyster bar motif, Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House features a spacious dining room with large industrial light fixtures, 30-foot vaulted ceilings and maps mounted along the exposed brick walls. The private dining room can host a party of 60, while the  more casual bar area offers big-screen televisions, high-top tables and black-and-white photos of fishermen and their catches.

“We wanted to keep the raw bones of such a pretty space, yet give it an updated, urban-chic vibe,” Elizabeth says of the Abendroth Avenue restaurant.

An offshoot of their popular Queens eatery, London Lennie’s, Saltaire is the product of the Rye couple’s ambition to provide a fresh seafood spot a little closer to home.

“We knew so many fish and food lovers that come to New York City and… London Lennie’s but don’t always want to travel to the city,” she says. “We felt people would appreciate the good food right in their backyard.”

On a recent visit, I grab a seat at the Carrara marble bar, which is lined with raw selections such as little neck clams and sea scallops. A drink menu offers a selection of draft beers, wines and signature cocktails. Menus change daily and offer something for nearly everyone, from buck-a-shuck oysters during happy hour to a heaping plate of king crab or surf and turf. Whole-roasted fish is served on the bone and steamed lobster can be purchased in per-pound increments. Those inclined to steer clear of from-the-sea items can enjoy salads, burgers or steak.

Both hot and cold small plates are offered, so we choose one of each. Florida red snapper ceviche is given a smoky flavor with a topping of chorizo amid a subtle hint of orange and a spicy kick. I find myself dipping my fork into the plate’s creamy sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke) purée even after I’ve finished the fish — it’s just that good. A superbly seasoned lump crab cake patty is served with a side of creamy guacamole — a highlight of the evening — pickled red onion, frisée and a delightfully fresh cherry tomato salad.

During our meal, we’re given another form of entertainment besides the baseball games shown on the dual screens as a staffer expertly shucks oysters behind the raw bar. Unable to resist a sample of the restaurant’s namesake offering, we order a varied selection, which arrives over ice on a shell-shaped plate. Guests can choose from a list of accompanying sauces, though a horseradish aioli proves to be a pleasant pairing.

Along with a number of house specialties, the menu also offers a “Top of the Catch” section that allows guests to choose either seared or grilled fish, a sauce from a trio of options and two side dishes to pair with the meal.

East Coast swordfish is served with roasted fingerling potatoes and asparagus, drizzled in a delicious beurre blanc sauce. The sides are excellent and the white sauce is our favorite part of the evening, though the swordfish proves a disappointment — overcooked and undersized for the price tag.

We fare exponentially better with the New Zealand king salmon, which is cooked to perfection and sits atop a plate of ratatouille and walnut-citrus vinaigrette. A chewy side of Brussels sprouts is the only hindrance to the dish, though crispy bits of bacon help mask any unpleasantness.

Our server has been exceptionally helpful throughout the evening, from demonstrating correct oyster-eating etiquette to assisting in our appetizer selections, so we put our dessert fate in her hands. She quickly delivers a key lime custard, artfully presented with a dollop of whipped cream and a large mint leaf. A pop rocks pie crust is a fizzy, unexpected treat to end our evening.

Elizabeth is correct in saying that the atmosphere at Saltaire is one that allows guests to have fun and indulge themselves — two sentiments with which I am always onboard.

For more, visit saltaireoysterbar.com.

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