If you've been to Providence, you know what Michael Cimarusti can do with seafood. You've experienced bliss in the form of uni and spot prawns, prepared with bold Asian flavors and plated with delicate French technique. You'll find neither aspect of this fusion at Cimarusti's west coast installation of a Rhode Island clam shack, but you can rest assured that it's darn good eating.
Connie & Ted's is a seafood joint that takes the quality ingredients found in its two-Michelin-starred sister restaurant and utilizes them in a more classic, comfort food-ish manner. You'll find beer-battered cod, angels on horseback, and clams of every conceivable variety and manner of preparation. Whether you sample the three distinct chowders (New England, Manhattan, and Rhode Island Clear styles), which each expertly balance supporting ingredients with heaps of rich clam meat, or you order the fried bellies or a garlicky quahog concoction called "stuffies," you'll find many menu options that are unfamiliar to native Californians but make East Coasters salivate upon mention.
Outside of the clams, perhaps Connie and Ted's most impressive offering is its expansive raw bar. Behind the counter you'll see seventeen or so different varieties of oysters on any given day, from your standard Kumamotos to lesser-seen species from Ireland. As you ponder your options (briny, creamy, savory, chewy, and silky choices galore!), the man shucking them with obsessive care will be happy to guide your decisions. One choice you won't have any trouble with is ordering the live sea urchin any time it's available.
While Cimarusti can prepare a lobster as well as anyone in the world, his two roll offerings here - served hot with drawn butter or cold with mayo - aren't the attempts at artistry or elegance that are notorious with other Los Angeles versions. You won't find squid ink in the bun (Hinoki & the Bird) nor fresh potato chips placed delicately atop the meat (Son of a Gun), but you will be faced with a more approachable, toasted white bun chock full of tail meat that might be even better than its fancy competitors. There are also a couple of burgers on the menu, and judging from the looks on the faces of a couple 20-somethings downing them at the bar, they're not too bad, either.
Oddly enough, where Connie & Ted's seems to flounder (pardon the pun) is in its catch of the day. There are several fresh options, either grilled or pan-seared with a heavy, ubiquitous herb crust that disregards the unique flavors of the species it coats. Also a disappointment is the dessert menu, featuring a "house-special" blondie that seems semi-bruleed texture all the way through. But let's be honest, nobody came here for the sweets. If you want to end your meal off right, order another Naked Cowboy and call it a night.
Los Angeles has desperately needed a quality seafood joint that combines the first-rate, sustainable ingredients we've grown accustomed to at Providence and Water Grill with the rugged, no-frills vibe that is so common on the East Coast. Connie & Ted's fits the bill perfectly and, while certainly a hip and happenin' new restaurant, is more than likely to prevail as a top casual seafood destination after the novelty of its menu wears off.