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    Monday, March 27, 2023

    The Oyster Club earns its accolades

    Local oysters at the Oyster Club (Ann Baldelli)
    The black sea bass at the Oyster Club (Ann Baldelli)
    Kale salad at the Oyster Club (Ann Baldelli)
    Exterior of the Oyster Club (Ann Baldelli)
    Front door of the Oyster Club (Ann Baldelli)
    Chocolate coffee tart at the Oyster Club (Ann Baldelli)

    We decided it was time to pay another visit to the Oyster Club after the Connecticut Restaurant Association named the executive chef there, Renee Touponce, chef of the year at its annual CRAzies Awards the first week of December. It was a good decision.

    There were five of us who had dinner just after Christmas, and the rustic dining room, with dark wood, cozy lighting, and elk antlers mounted on the wall, was festive for the holiday season. Outside, the building was decked with white lights, wreaths with red bows, and garland. We came with holiday appetites.

    We started with wine and cocktails, and for our opening round, a dozen oysters, three each of the Sixpenny, Ninigret, Niantic, and Watch Hill ($2.95 each). Local oysters are the best, and they were briny good and served with lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, and a delicious mignonette. We also ordered the sourdough bread, $6, served with cultured butter and sea salt. It arrived warm and was pillowy soft on the inside with a crusty exterior.

    The empanadas, $14, are a signature dish of Touponce, and they were a big hit. The crimped turnovers were filled with a mixture of beef, sofrito, olives and cheese, and served with charred chili aioli and chimichurri. We wiped that plate clean.

    Also well received was the kale salad, $10, prepared with Cachalot cheese, apples, shallots, and a buttermilk peppercorn dressing. It was pretty to look at and a terrific blend of flavors and textures.

    As if we hadn’t already had enough oysters, we also tried the oysters Rockefeller, $19 for a half dozen. We were, of course, at the Oyster Club. On this night, the classic dish was prepared with creamed spinach, sourdough breadcrumbs, and Finback cheese, and while it was good, and the oysters very tasty, we would have preferred a few less breadcrumbs.

    For entrees, everything we ordered was above par, but perhaps the standout of the night was the black sea bass, $33, served with an herbed fregola salad, miso carrots, pomegranate, and almond watercress gremolata. It was pretty to look at and even better to eat. The fish was moist and flavorful and the pomegranate with the pearled pasta, an interesting and delightful treat.

    Also very good was the tagliatelle, $30, a good-sized portion of the house-made pasta with a ragu of beef, pork, tomato, white wine, and Finback cheese. It is one of those dishes that even when you are full, you can’t stop eating, because it’s so scrumptious. The ragu tastes like something an Italian grandmother would make.

    Our waiter earned his stripes when he acknowledged that the kitchen had goofed when it sent out the wrong steaks. We had ordered two 12-ounce New York strips, and instead, they sent out one strip and one 8-ounce filet mignon.

    The beef is pricey. The Beriah Lewis Farm filet mignon is $50, and in my estimation one of the more flavorful pieces of meat you will ever eat. The 12-ounce strip is $56, and there is a six-ounce strip for $28. As the waiter acknowledged the mistake, he told us to enjoy the filet and said the strip was on its way. Turns out both steaks were tender, juicy, flavorful and cooked to perfection, but we agreed that, if we had to give an edge, it would go to the filet.

    Oyster Club is a great place for a casual drink and quick bite, or a romantic or celebratory dinner. It has deservedly won all kinds of accolades and is popular with both locals and tourists. In addition to the dining room and bar, there is the attached Treehouse, and its new next-door companion, The Port of Call, named by Esquire Magazine as one of the nation’s best bars in 2022.

    We had a great post-Christmas dinner and topped it off with two desserts to share – the signature brown butter almond cake and a chocolate coffee tart, both $10. Suffice it to say there wasn’t a crumb left when we were done. Remember, Oyster Club is closed for winter hibernation and will reopen for Valentine’s Day weekend.

    Oyster Club

    13 Water St., Mystic

    (860) 415-9266

    Find their website at oysterclubct.com and search their name to find them on social media.

    Atmosphere: Rustic, dark and cozy

    Alcohol: Full bar service with interesting craft cocktails

    Hours: Oyster Club will be closed for its winter break Jan. 1 to Feb. 9, reopening Feb. 10 for Valentine’s Day weekend. Typically, they are closed Tuesdays and open for dinner at 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and for lunch and dinner Friday, Saturday, Sunday, but check the website when they reopen mid-February.

    Service: Attentive and helpful

    Prices: There is a wide range, with the house cheddar burger $17 and a special 24-ounce ribeye steak the night we visited priced at $65. A half-order of pasta is $14, and a swordfish dinner is $33. The menu changes regularly and is sourced from local farmers, fishermen and purveyors.

    Reservations: Not required but recommended

    Credit cards: Yes

    Handicapped accessible: There are two steps up to the front door.

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