Dungeness crab season has been delayed for a fourth year in the Bay Area, leaving us pining for crustaceans at our holiday tables.
But while the mighty Dungeness may be on hold, Oyster restaurant chef and owner Jake Rand is casting a wide net to bring sustainable, locally available seafood choices to his new Sebastopol restaurant.
Oyster is Rand’s new 400-square-foot, Parisian-style seafood cafe at The Barlow. The open-kitchen restaurant is neatly laid out to include nine counter seats and a variety of outdoor tables for al fresco dining. Rand plans to expand into an adjoining space for additional seating. He also owns Sushi Kosho across the street, which is focused on Japanese cuisine including sushi, poke, chicken karaage and Wagyu beef short ribs.
At Oyster, oysters are, not surprisingly, a highlight of the menu. They’re served raw, baked and fried. The rest of the menu leans on sustainable shellfish, fish, prawns and octopus, all approved by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch as “Best Choices” for eating.
Much of the seafood on the menu is aquafarmed — controlled cultivation of fish and other seafood in water — that sometimes gets a bad rap as polluting or toxic.
Rand hopes to educate consumers about bivalves’ specific benefits for local marine habitats. He said filter feeders like oysters, mussels and clams help keep ocean water clean, sequester carbon and help protect shores from erosion.
“I think ocean farming sometimes falls into a negative context,” Rand said. “If people heard more about the parallels between sustainable agriculture and positive ocean farming, I think it might shift some opinions.”
As anyone forced to eat oily sardines or pickled herring knows, sustainability doesn’t always mean deliciousness. At Oyster, Rand doesn’t have to compromise.
Dishes like chile-dusted calamari with a kicked-up rémoulade sauce, a hearty oyster po’boy sandwich with a creamy lemon slaw or seared scallops with brown butter are familiar yet luxurious.
Rand doesn’t skimp on housemade sauces either. Tartar and cocktail sauces are served here, but flavored aiolis and other sauces are better bets. Prices can be steep but well worth the expense for cracking-fresh seafood, often from nearby waters.
“Sustainability is an easy choice, especially in our geographic area, and it is just the logical approach for this type of restaurant concept,” Rand said.
Baked Oysters Dynamite, $26: Plump oysters are baked with creamy tobiko (flying fish roe) aioli and generous bits of bacon. Think potato skins with a pedigree.
Spanish Octopus a la Plancha, $26: Tender bites of octopus sit atop smashed fingerling potatoes. The pool of earthy black garlic aioli underneath is the real surprise, hidden beneath the crisp spuds. Just as I thought the dish needed a little extra flavor boost, voilà, the black gold appeared.
Captain’s Platter, $62: If you’re dining with a friend or three, this mounded plate includes fried oysters, scallops, calamari, duck fat fries and three kinds of sauce. This is the kind of dish you’d expect at the coast but rarely find.
Crisp Skin “Tai” Snapper, $38: The mild white fish is flaky, with smoked chile oil that gives the cross-hashed skin a snappy bite. But the green Thai herb sauce steals the show, adding a sweet-sour-citrus zing.
Local Albacore Tuna Carpaccio, $18: Raw sliced albacore tuna — with light pink flesh rather than the ruby flesh of bluefin — has a slight metallic twang more often found in leaner cuts. It’s covered with threads of yuzu aioli and fried capers and is a beauty to behold.
Bubbles and wines: French Champagne and other bubbles highlight the wine list. You’ll also find about 40 wine selections, mostly whites from Spain and California, and a handful of natural wines.
Oyster is located at The Barlow, 6770 McKinley St., Suite 130, in Sebastopol and is open from 2 to 9 p.m. daily. Information is online at Instagram.com/oyster_sebastopol.