Taste: Reviews: East Meets West

The new Oyster House puts a California spin on a Philly tradition

THE REST OF the menu, devised by Mink and executive chef Greg Ling, sticks to the classics of the fish-house genre, but modernized recipes abound. Longtime loyalists will find their snapper soup has been made over. Gone are the flour and cornstarch, ingredients that gave the old version all the finesse of wallpaper paste. The new version is full of surprisingly beef-like turtle meat and aromatic carrots, celery and onion, with a light tomato-y top note and warm currents of allspice. The New England clam chowder has undergone a similar lightening-up; its texture is now more brothy than thick, allowing the fresh clam flavor to shine. Mink compares the fisherman’s stew to French bouillabaisse, but it reminded me more of San Francisco’s cioppino. The inspiration hardly matters, though, in a bowl of stew so delicious: head-on shrimp, mussels, scallops, calamari and bass in an oceanic broth boldly spiced with cayenne and fragrant with Pernod.

Some dishes are reaches for the genre, exhibiting the ambition usually reserved for white-tablecloth places. Striped bass served with chanterelle mushrooms, corn, asparagus and tomato vinaigrette seemed unnecessarily fussy, and its flavors didn’t harmonize as well as those in many pared-down options, like the lobster roll. A side of roasted beets with skordalia, a creamy potato-based sauce, was poorly executed, with undercooked beets and a lack of salt. The burger, an obligatory non-fish menu item, was also inadequately seasoned.

But who orders a burger at a fish house, anyway? If you let common sense be your guide, you’ll be treated to well-­executed dishes that have become classics for a reason. Even with the minor missteps and disappointments, the unmistakable flavors of quality ingredients dominate the meal. And though Mink says some old-timers miss the starchy soups, most diners will welcome his subtle tweaks, his left-coast embellishments to these East Coast standards. It’s a formula that should keep oyster addicts happy and the Mink family in business for another 60 years.       

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