The New England Boiled Dinner, a real winner!
Many of us who grew up on the East Coast have memories of going to a New England seafood shack somewhere in that area and having life-changing seafood, dishes whose freshness and taste we had only imagined 'til then. I know that growing up in Brooklyn, I never tasted a fresh lobster and pristine oysters of the intensity I experienced in a seafood place outside of Boston. But none of us had the experience of Chef Michael Cimarusti, who spent summers as a kid visiting his grandparents, Connie and Ted, in Rhode Island, fishing daily and eating lobsters and steamers along Narragansett Bay. Which is why, when he planned his second seafood eatery, his thoughts turned to the clam houses of his youth. Connie and Ted's (8171 Santa Monica Blvd, one block west of Crescent Heights on the northeast corner (323-848-CRAB) named for his maternal grandparent, is that new restaurant....and it is a huge winner. Is it ever!
The Man, Chef Michael Cimarusti, co-owner and the inspiration for the new restaurant.
...and Sam Baxter is the day-to-day Exec Chef, formerly of Providence.
Yes, we have oysters..up to16 different selections.
Michael, of course, is the world-famous seafood chef of the exquisite PROVIDENCE restaurant in mid-Melrose, which he owns with his wife, Crisi, and their front-of-the-house man Donato Poto. At the new sea-centric 140-seat shack, the chef is Providence chef de cuisine Sam Baxter. The bar, with its 24 beer taps, is guided by the barista-turned-bartender Laura Lindsay. "We want to focus on the classic seafood preparations which I remember from my youth," Michael told me. "There will be two kinds of lobster rolls, fried fish sandwiches, oysters Rockefeller, clam steamers and 'stuffies.' When I inquired what these were, he laughed and said, "Stuffies are Quahog clams which are stuffed with linguica sausage and bread crumbs." He added that they hope to have 16 different oyster varieties available at all times. Live lobster tanks oversee the dining room. "We have burgers and steaks as well, and all bread will be baked in house." Incidentally, his burgers ($15) offer four year-old Hook cheddar cheese...but why would anyone come to a seafood place and order a burger?
The Peekytoe Crab Cake is the best I have ever eaten.
I admit that I am in love with this new seafood shack, and could eat here several times a week if I didn't have other fish to fry (ouch!). It lifts the L.A. seafood dining experience to a higher, different level...a wonderful menu, great preparations and excellent service, a fun atmosphere...everything a new eatery should be and rarely is. It's a large space jutting behind a parking lot and valet stand ($7), and there is plenty of street parking also. Michael's wife, Crisi, and I share seats on the Special Olympic's restaurant committee, so I have gotten to know her and respect enormously her business acumen. Regarding the other partners, I have known Amy Spector Nickoloff for years and met her husband, Craig Nickoloff, on opening night, and admire their smarts in investing here along with other investors.. Craig, Michael and Donato had met by chance and learned that each was planning to open a casual seafood emporium so they joined forces some time ago. Good move, guys.
I always preferred my lobster steamed, but their grilled lobster is amazing.
A simple grilled halibut was the fish of choice on opening night.
I am told that lots of Providence people/cooks will commute the 2 ½ miles between restaurants to get this place up and running, while lunch is in the forseeable future. Michael told me that all of the 24 beers on tap will be California-brewed except for the epiphanous Boston-brewed Samuel Adams ($8). He pointed out to me that the lights in the high ceiling around the bar form actual constellations, a nice touch. I asked him why his chef's jacket said, under the Connie and Ted name, "established 1940," and he said it was an homage to the real Connie and Ted, who married in 1940. Nice to see he has kept his mad sense of humor. Crisi pointed out to me the seawater tanks holding live Maine lobsters, Dungenesss crabs, and Santa Barbara spot prawns. I noted the custom-made oyster cases for the many East and West Coast varieties...and marveled at the wallpaper sporting thousands of oyster tags which the chef has collected over the years.
The lobster roll may be had either cold or hot. I prefer the cold.
Three different chowders are available..and I loved the clear.
The pleasant patio on these warm summer evenings is actually my favorite place to sit.
But it's the food which holds sway here, and I am noow trying to eat my way through the menu but it's hard. Three kinds of chowder, (clear-new to me, New England white and Manhattan red. Cup is $6 and Bowl is $9, with a sampling of all three for $11, which hI highly recommend. Surprisingly, my favorite was the clear, probably because of the tiny hunks of pork in the broth.) Two kinds of lobster rolls, hot and cold ($22, with mayonnaise or drawn butter), and different ways of lobster preparation (Market price, usually around $25 per pound). I still love the simple steamed version, with melted drawn butter on the side...never did get grilled lobsters, but Michael insists they get a unique flavor that way. For dessert, there is Indian pudding, chocolate box cake, Whoopie pies, 'Blondies' and sherbets..all from talented Providence pastry chef David Rodriguez.
Fish and Chips, better than any to be found in England. Northern cod and crispy potatoes.
The desserts by pastry chef David Rodriguez are Providence quality, which is incredible.
But there is so much to enjoy on this amazing menu thata my head swirls: I am crazy about Josephine's clam cakes (6 for $10, a dozen for $18), and then there are Peekytoe crab cakes ($12). Those 'Stuffies' are 2 for $9. A live New Bedford scallop is grilled in its shell ($23), the best scallop I have ever tasted, even better than the Chinese restaurant ones. And Oysters Rockefeller (grilled, with spinach) are three for $12, six for $18. Ed's Portuguese Fish Stew is a savory brew of hake, manila clams, mussels and linquica ($22). Fried clams are offered with or without 'bellies' ($16); go with the bellies. The Bone-in Angus Rib Eye is $42, while the Bone-in Filet Mignon is $44. Craig Nickeloff's premium meat company supplies the beef here. Here's a hint: the New England Boiled Dinner ($26) is a very smart selection...mussels, steamers, lobster (1/2 of a 1 1/2lb one), linguica, potatoes, steamed corn...brings back such memories and is a delicious dinner choice. They even have Fish and Chips ($21), batter-dipped Northern cod and potato chips. My neighbor at the table said it was scrumptuous, and she was British and should know . Everyday there is a special "Grilled Catch of the Day" (Market price), offered either plain, with an herb crust or with herb oil and lemon, served with one side. Last night everyone was ordering the halibut, which looked incredible and pristine. Those sides are $5 apiece and include mac and cheese and onion rings, but a surprising winner was the hot, buttered Parker House rolls.
The hot, buttered Parker House rolls are a $5 side which everyone should order.
New England is 3,000 miles away...so a trip down Santa Monica Blvd. is easier and safer, and waiting for you is a truly memorable seafood feast. I am not fishing for compliments (ouch, again) but I have expressed for you why Connie and Ted will meet all your seagoing culinary urges. So drop your hook here and enjoy the catch. It's terrific.
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