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Fresh catch — two new seafood joints for discerning locals

I’ve always thought of the dining options at Suncoast to be … well, I’ve never thought of them at all. That’s why the recent arrival of Briggs Oyster Co. came as a surprise. The modern seafood restaurant and sushi bar casts a wide net, attracting more than the typical earlybird and graveyard-special customers. Fresh oysters — the sweet Kusshi variety was available on my particular visit — are as big as ping-pong balls, a generous lobster roll includes a properly toasted and buttered bun, and the staff (from servers to the guy ladling chowder behind the bar) could disarm even the most sour patron with its friendly demeanor.

Design elements follow a predictable template for trendy New England-style seafood shacks: gleaming white subway tiles lines the walls, an open kitchen is spotless, and clever quotes — written in trendy typography, natch — are displayed on an eye-catching chalkboard wall.

I’m not saying it’s a destination. A close look at the details will remind you that this is a turn-and-burn operation. For instance, soup is held in a warming station in clear view, and our server raved about a pretty lean portion of frozen fries. Still, it’s a much-needed upgrade from the space’s former incarnation as the Oyster Bar. And if one’s post-bingo dinner options boil down to freshly shucked bivalves or limp lettuce from a buffet salad station, you’d be wiser to choose the former.

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Last month another unrelated Oyster Bar (a spin-off of the Palace Station original) opened at Santa Fe Station. Anyone familiar with the restaurant’s cult following — chef David Chang and actor James Woods give it their highest praises — should rejoice that this northern outpost offers the same solid menu, as well as original dishes, without the long wait times (at least for now).

Chef Megan Estoup, who hails from New Orleans, makes proper stick-to-your-ribs gumbo. The toasty, muddy roux in the house version slogs your taste buds before giving way to the mellow sweetness of shrimp, crab and lobster chunks. And while 30 bucks for fish and chips might sound overindulgent, it’s one of the better versions you’ll ever taste. (The tail-on loupe de mer filets were this big!) A cheap but perfectly matched glass of Sauvignon blanc made counter dining feel fancy.

As far as raw bar options go, Oyster Bar edges out Briggs with its larger fresh-oyster selection, along with tasting notes for each variety. The only downside is that unlike the 24-hour home base at Palace Station, this location is only open for a short dinner service.

Whichever you prefer, the restaurants’ respective arrivals are an optimistic sign that local palates (and wallets) are starting to open up.

 

Briggs Oyster Co. at Suncoast, suncoastcasino.com

Oyster Bar at Santa Fe Station., santefestation.sclv.com

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