Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Rhode Island: Matunuck Oyster Bar (Part 2)

"An oyster, that marvel of delicacy, that concentration of sapid excellence, that mouthful before all other mouthfuls, who first had faith to believe it, and courage to execute? The exterior is not persuasive."
--Henry Ward Beecher

As I mentioned yesterday, Perry Raso began with a oyster farm and in 2009, he decided to open a restaurant, the Matunuck Oyster Bar. Initially, the site of the would-be restaurant was a run-down clam shack and Perry didn't have any restaurant experience. Despite the challenges, Perry persevered, establishing a restaurant based on a concept of “simple food, fairly priced, fresh products, and making sure everybody leaves happy.” There is also an element of Pond to Plate, as they serve oysters harvested from the pond outside the patio as well as produce from their organic farm.

The outside patio and bar, perfect for a summer day.

This section of the patio has a retractable glass roof. The restaurant is casual, but it is more than a simple clam shack.

The interior dining room with the bar in the back. A nice casual elegance.

The raw bar, displaying all of the current shellfish available. Lots of shucking going on there.

The second floor dining room has a large map of southern Rhode Island, showing all the ponds, on one wall.

The restaurant has a full bar and recently redid their wine list, adding even more options, with about twenty wines available by the glass, priced $8-$13. Their beer list contains many brews from across New England and they have a list of special Cocktails, priced $10-$11. I began with a glass of Muscadet, which was a great choice for the oysters with which we started the lunch.  I also tried the Potters Pond Bloody Mary which is made with house-infused horseradish vodka, house-made Bloody Mary mix with a Matunuck Oyster. It was spicy and savory, another fine way to begin lunch or dinner.

The food menu has plenty of seafood options, as well as non-seafood options, though why would you come here for anything but seafood unless you are allergic? The menu begins with Raw Bar options, including a Dozen Oysters for $21.95, which is a good value at less than $2 per oyster. Clams and Shrimp are also options. There are about 18 Starters, mostly priced $11.95-$13.95, such as Point Judith Calamari, Oyster Stew, Alaskan King Crab, and more. There are also five Salads, priced $7.95 to $18.95, such as Caesar Salad and Sesame Seared Tuna. You find about 16 Entrees, priced $14.95-$43.95, such as Stuffed Lobsters, Pistachio Crusted Atlantic Cod, Jambalaya, and Fried Oysters. Finally, there are five Sandwiches, priced $12.50-$17.95, such as Lobster Roll and Oyster Po Boy.

The menu has a good diversity of dishes, it's reasonably priced, and presents plenty of local, sustainable seafood options. And on a Wednesday afternoon in late May, the restaurant was quite busy, even past the usual lunch hours. During the summer, I'd suggest you make reservations to ensure you get a table.

We began with some Oysters, including Matunuck (the smaller ones on the right side) and Quonnie Rocks (which are from Quonochontaug Pond in Charlestown, Rhode Island). Both had a nice briny taste to them though the Matunuck also had more of a sweet element as well. The Quonnies were larger and plumper.

The Starters include several different Oyster preparations, including my favorite, the Bourbon Oysters which are Matunucks broiled with a Bourbon chipotle sauce. Such a savory, slightly sweet and spicy sauce, balanced with the briny element of the oyster.

The Oysters Rockefeller, are made with Pernod, spinach, bacon, breadcrumbs & fresh herbs, and provided a some nice herbal flavors, with a hint of bitter which actually went well with the salinity of the oysters.

The Clams Casino are Rhode Island littlenecks with bacon and bread crumb stuffing, giving a bit of smokiness to the clams and crisp breading with buttery notes.

We received a basket of rolls, which the server nonchalantly presented as "nothing special" but which I think were definitely special. The fresh, house-made rolls; had a perfect crusty top with a little bit of seasoning, and a light, fluffy interior. They came with a dish of oil and spices, including some lavender, and I could have eaten the entire basket of rolls myself. If you love bread, these rolls will satisfy your cravings.

The Stuffie is a famous Rhode Island seafood dish, a stuffed quahog (a large, hard shell clam).  This one is house-made, with chourico, and is a large clam with a delicious stuffing full of pieces of clam and enhanced by the spicy taste of the chourico. If you visit Rhode Island, you really need to experience this dish.

Rhode Island Clam Chowder, also known as South County style, has a clear broth, with clams, potatoes, onions and often bacon. It is more really a soup than a chowder, and is a good soup but definitely not a replacement for a creamy New England Clam Chowder.

The Point Judith Calamari were lightly fried with cherry peppers, arugula, capers & citrus aioli. Tender, with a light, crisp batter they were balanced with the acidity of the cherry peppers. This is another iconic Rhode Island seafood and Matunuck does it proud.

The Scallop Ceviche (which currently doesn't contain their own bay scallops) is made with mango, cilantro, peppers & lime and is served with crispy wonton chips. The silky scallops were fresh and delicious, with a nice sweetness to them, enhanced with the fruit flavors.

My entree was the Pint of Whole Belly Clams, which consisted of lightly fried whole belly clams with house cut fries, coleslaw & tartar sauce. Again, the fried seafood was clean and lightly breaded, a tasty bite. They were not gritty at all and the french fries were good as well.

Overall, Matunuck is a very good seafood restaurant, reasonably priced and offering plenty of fresh seafood as well as regional specialities. If you are near South Kingston, you should stop by, even if it is only for some oysters and a drink. However, if you have the time, tour the oyster farm before dining at the restaurant. Perry mentioned that he has considered opening a second spot but it needs to be the right spot so it might take time for him to find a place that meets all his needs.

"The life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster."
--David Hume

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