seafood at the bar Sobou yellowfintuna cones Sara Essex Bradley

Seafood steps up to the bar

Chefs upgrade classic seafood-at-the-bar dishes

Seafood at the bar has long been about simple, indulgent pleasures of the sea — think raw oysters, chilled jumbo shrimp and steamed Alaskan King crab legs. But the experience can also be complex and creative, as evidenced by the many chefs currently offering innovative bar bites that riff on seafood favorites.

At SoBou in New Orleans, executive chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez offers a menu of shareable seafood bites that blend the flavors of his native of Puerto Rico and Louisiana. 

Yellowfin tuna cones are Gonzalez’s unexpected take on tuna tartar. The dish is made with diced tuna and pineapple ceviche topped with a scoop of basil avocado ice cream, served inside mini ice cream cones. And for a fresh spin on oysters on the half shell, Gonzalez serves smoky oysters en escabeche, featuring cold smoked local oysters served on the half shell with an escabeche liquid and frosé granita.

“They’re just different … particularly interesting and fun to eat,” Gonzalez said. “You can’t go into just any restaurant and get mini cones with tuna and avocado ice cream.”

At the bar at Perrine in the Pierre Hotel in New York City, executive chef Ashfer Biju offers a modern approach to the classic crab imperial with his crab imperial flatbread. Fresh Maine crabmeat combined with crème fraiche, chilies and Gruyere cheese are spread over housemade naan bread, baked until golden brown, then topped with fresh herbs (parsley, dill, fennel fronds and celery fronds) and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

“The fact that it is easy to share — and delicious — makes it a great bar dish,” Biju said. “Also, it has a certain amount of spice and saltiness.”

Melissa Hom

Crab imperial flatbread at Perrine in New York City

Crab imperial flatbread is one of the two best-selling appetizers on the menu, Biju said. The other is tuna tartar.

The lobster po’ boy and sushi get re-imagined as seafood bar bites at the new Ever Bar, inside the Everly Hotel in Los Angeles. 

Shrimp cake sliders are made with shrimp pounded and formed into a patty, then topped with pickled fennel and a zesty remoulade, served on a toasted brioche bun. The spicy tuna rice cake features five pieces of spicy tuna atop housemade rice cakes with spicy mayo and pickled ginger.

Other twisted seafood bites on the Ever Bar menu include seasonal ceviche with furikake spiced potato chips and salmon poke tacos with caviar in wonton shells.

At the newly opened Bottlefish in Los Angeles, the First Call bar menu offers sustainable seafood appetizers such as salmon deviled eggs made with salmon that is smoked in-house using elderwood, and a Thai-style shrimp toast served on crispy Pullman bread and sprinkled with sesame seeds and shaved scallions. 

Escargot gets a refresh with the garlic shrimp at Oyster Bah in Chicago. The dish is made with garlic shrimp served with garlic butter, panko breadcrumbs and grilled ciabatta bread. Servers like to call the dish “shrimp-cargot” because the preparation and presentation are similar to classic escargot.

Garlic shrimp at Oyster Bah in Chicago

Originally created 17 years ago by Kevin Brown, CEO of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, the recipe was plucked from the archives and brought back to the menu in March, and is now one of the most popular happy hour items at the bar.

“This dish combines three of our favorite ingredients — shrimp, garlic and butter — and attacks all of your senses,” said Bill Nevruz, managing partner at Oyster Bah. “Your ears hear the sizzle, your nose smells the garlic, your eyes watch the crackling of the butter and the flavor speaks for itself.”

Correction: Sept. 27, 2017  An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Bottlefish's bar menu. It is First Call. 

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