Anybody who’s visited Bellingham’s Bayou on Bay during a sunny summer afternoon knows that in order to get a good seat on the patio, or even within the confines of the two floors of sprawling restaurant space, it helps to show up early or be prepared to wait a few minutes for a table to open up.
What you may not know is that Bayou’s Oyster Bar—which is located right next door to the main space in a long, narrow room with cobalt-blue walls and fancy chandeliers—is an entirely different party animal. Instead of battling crowds, those who enter its doors can typically expect to easily find a seat (either inside or out), take a deep breath and settle in for a well-crafted cocktail, an oyster or six, a light meal and conversation that doesn’t require a megaphone.
On the first of two recent visits to the Oyster Bar, a group of us gathered at the biggest inside table to sample the best of what cook Jacob Grisham has to offer.
First, of course, we had to check out the expansive drink menu, which promised to deliver a variety of cocktails “from 1823 to 2012.” I opted for the Moscow Mule ($6), a vodka, lime juice and ginger beer concoction first seen in New York City’s Chatham Bar in 1941. I thought about ordering a Satan Cocktail ($8), another ’41 invention consisting of bourbon, Vermouth, bitters and absinthe, but reconsidered after a tablemate informed us she’d boozily propositioned a close friend after ingesting two of them. “One is fine,” she added, “just don’t, ever, have two.”
Duly warned, I sipped on my Mule—which was light, tasty and seasonally refreshing—and joined the fun when everybody tried each other’s spectacles on. To my left, I noticed sailboats merrily cruising in Bellingham Bay in the slice of waterfront view that can be seen from the Oyster Bar and awaited the edibles Grisham had lined up for us.
First up, per the eatery’s moniker, was a selection of oysters sourced from Bow’s Taylor Shellfish Farms ($2.50 per oyster). Along with slices of lemon and a clear dipping sauce, we sampled Penn Cove, Fanny Bay, and a third salty bivalve whose name I didn’t write down.
“Oh man, these are so fresh,” one diner could be heard muttering under his breath as he slid an award-winning Penn Cove morsel into his mouth. I didn’t say anything, as I had my eyes closed, and was busy savoring the briny goodness that only a fresh oyster can provide.
“There’s always something available,” one of our servers reported when asked if it’s possible to get oysters year-round—a must if you’re running a restaurant with the word “oyster” in it. When queried about the possibility of ingesting radioactive seafood, she noted that Taylor “would never sell anything that wasn’t safe to eat.”
Our next course, an endive salad with duck confit ($9) was the only one without some sort of sea creature in it, and we were O.K. with that. “I love a good meat salad,” the bearded fellow sitting next to me said, digging in with relish. Everyone else must’ve agreed, because our plates were soon empty.
Oysters were also part of the next round of goods, this time in the form of Oysters Rockefeller and Oysters Gabrielle (each $9 for a serving of four). Bigger than their raw counterparts, they were baked with a variety of cheeses, bacon, greens and magic, and pretty much melted on contact with our mouths.
Following that were black tiger prawns served with spicy horseradish sauce ($6). Packed full of their own flavor, a slight daub of the accompanying condiment was all that was needed. They were simple, yet light and lovely.
Our final non-dessert menu item was salmon tacos with mango salsa and crème fraiche ($10). Oh, man. The salmon was from Alaska, the crème had avocado in it, and the sweet mango flavor made a lot happen in every bite.
“This is a wonderful thing,” the whisky-sipping guy sitting across from me said, while another tablemate noted that “the mango is pretty much the perfect accompaniment.”
Sated with seafood, sauces and sippers, we nevertheless opted for a couple servings of the flourless chocolate torte ($5), which could’ve pushed us over the edge, but instead left us all with smiles on our faces.
A couple weeks later, my guy and I dropped by during Happy Hour—which takes place every day from 5-7pm, and, at a reduced price, allows diners to mix and match where oysters and appetizers are concerned—to make sure our superb meal hadn’t been a fluke. I’m happy to report that things were just as good the second time around.
Next time you’re battling the crowds at Bayou’s main space, take a moment to consider your options. Sure, gumbo and po’ boys are delicious, but so are oysters and absinthe. Think about it.
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