Behind the newly white-washed Façade that once enclosed Capri, a cozily packed-in crowd gets all nostalgic about lobster rolls, chowdah and sunny summer days attending clam bakes on the East Coast shore. They’re salivating at the thought of succulent whole fried fish snapper or pan-roasted striped bass.
Owners David Reiss (Little Fork, A-Frame) and partners Carol Ann and Moise Emquies have tapped into the suddenly-stylish Back-East fish house trend that includes Michael Cimarusti’s Connie and Ted’s and David LeFevere’s Fishing with Dynamite, not to mention Blue Plate Oysterette and the recently-opened Water Grill, Santa Monica. But you won’t find much of the east-coasty seafood-shack fare that Salt Air’s image implies.
The small-plates emerging from the restaurant’s zinc-trimmed glassed-in kitchen draw liberally on Chef Greg A. Daniels’ background. Formerly executive sous chef at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Perry Street in Manhattan where Mediterranean and Asian influences prevailed, he serves a creamy pepper-laced bouillabaisse that tastes slightly Thai. His puffy, fish skin “chips” come with harissa and a smoked onion dip while his mussels float in an Asian-inflected coconut curry. His modern take on the lobster roll doesn’t fare so well, though. The parsimonious serving of the crustacean on a tiny soft bland bun lacked the voluptuous richness of the original.
Still, dish after dish amuses, merging bright flavors with seductive textures: Grilled octopus atop beluga lentils enriched with bits of chorizo and tangy pickled onion is high on the must try list as are the pretzel-crusted fried oysters.
A lively bar scene flourishes despite the lack of a hard liquor license. Bar director Brian Butler’ has come up with a smart list of wine and aperitif-based cocktails. The delicious High Ball based on house-made ginger beer, cardamaro (an amaro) and forbidden bitters and the Tiki, based on Americano with orgeat, lime and pineapple, show why no one here misses the hard stuff.
Daniels seems to want to cater to all tastes, forgoing underwater options for mains like pan-roasted chicken and Kurobuta pork chop with quince mustard and Brussels sprouts. There’s also a well-made burger with sharp aged cheddar. For many that means a something-for-everyone menu. While others think a seafood shack should stick to seafood. That squabble notwithstanding, Daniels’ skillful cooking assuredly suits the avant-garde mood of its neighborhood.
1616 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice Ca., 90291. Phone: 310-396-1333