Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times (m1xxqqpd20120406082721/600/600x400 )
I'm crazy for oysters, always have been. At Hog Island Oysters near Bodega Bay, I've been known to down three or four dozen at a time, all shucked, slowly, by me. Wherever I'm headed, you can be sure I've got the oyster bars mapped out ahead of time. So when news came that a new oyster bar was about to open across from LA Mill in Silver Lake, I was thrilled. Even sweeter, the partners in the new spot are Dustin Lancaster and Matthew Kaner, the duo that brought Los Feliz the quality wine bar Covell. That meant not only oysters, but also, in all likelihood, some seriously interesting wines to go with them.
I worried, though. Just how many oyster lovers could there be in these vegan-rich parts? Just the week before, I had the sorry duty of informing an appalled vegan friend that oysters on the half shell meant the mollusks were alive when the shucker pried open their shells. Would L&E Oyster Bar even have a chance?
I thought it might take a while to catch on. Well, let me just say that when I tried to stop by a couple of Thursdays ago after 9 p.m., I couldn't get in. The space is small, so they don't take reservations — and the wait was estimated at half an hour to 40 minutes. I would have been happy to crowd at the bar with a craft beer or a glass of white wine, but the rest of my party wanted to go home and eat leftover bollito misto instead of waiting for some Quilcene or Pope's Bay oysters.
I fare better on a slightly drizzly evening when a friend and I luck into two seats at the bar. Next to me, a guy in a pork pie hat and goatee ferociously attacks his "knife and fork" fried oyster po' boy. Hungry? I guess so. How is it? He gives me a thumbs up. Meanwhile, the bartender pours us a glass of cool granitic Semillon from Australia. And oysters — the daily dozen — arrive: This is L&E's outstanding deal, four each of three different kinds, which vary day to day. That night was Kumiai from Baja and two from Canada: Kusshi from Vancouver Island and Hurricane Island from New Brunswick. Another time, it could be Chefs Creek and Deep Bay, both from Vancouver Island, plus the happily named Naked Cowboys from Long Island Sound, and always a mix of East and West Coast oysters served at the perfect temperature. A wedge of lemon, a little horseradish, that's it.
Look around the room. Everybody's having them. Once ordered, the oysters come out pretty fast too, thanks to the skilled shuckers behind the scenes.
Owner Lancaster, former barman at Café Stella in Silver Lake, has a knack for creating a look on a lean budget. He covered the walls of Covell Wine Bar with pages of an old French encyclopedia he found at a flea market. Here, he's transformed the former Domenico's with a paint job, wiggy lighting fixtures, a long tufted banquette and vintage bait signs that list the day's oysters, anywhere from $2 for Bahia Falsa from San Quintín, Mexico, and $2.50 for Luna from Carlsbad to $3.50 each for Hog Neck Bay oysters from Peconic Bay in New York.
Some people love oysters, just not raw and slippery. To that end, L&E has fried oysters, crunchy and not a bit greasy, big ones, to dip in sauce gribiche. (The po' boy is essentially the same thing in sandwich form.) And while you're at it, order up some fried onion rings too. There are also grilled oysters, four to an order. Especially nice is the oysters casino adorned with a little butter, paprika, thyme, shallots — and crisp nuggets of Nueske's bacon.
But the menu is not all oysters, all the time. You can get salads, notably grilled Little Gems doused in a vinegary dressing and embellished with white anchovies. And crostini topped with crumbled chorizo sausage and house-smoked Prince Edward Island mussels and capers fished from a jar. It's rustic, but great, and one of the few dishes that goes with a red wine, such as a really quite decent Grenache blend from San Diego County. The other would be the skirt steak sandwich with watercress, tomato and aioli amped up with horseradish. Blackened catfish is about as fancy as a plate gets at L&E, piled high with blistered shishito peppers and a pepper and celery slaw.
New wines to try
Kaner's wine list is restricted to those that go with oysters. He doesn't have the space to do as much with wine as he does at Covell. It's a storage issue. He does switch out the wines frequently, so there's always something new to try, if not that Australian Semillon, then a new Prosecco or Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc, and many of them by the glass.
Some dishes, like the clam chowder (too floury), need tweaking. I can't recommend the muddy-tasting Cajun crawfish pie too enthusiastically either. But in the end, it's not about the food, it's about the oysters. And this congenial spot is just what local oyster lovers needed.
L&E Oyster Bar
A crack team of shuckers gets out the oysters at this smart new Silver Lake oyster bar from the team behind Covell Wine Bar. They've got them fried and grilled, too, plus the wines to go with them.
Location: 1637 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 660-2255; http://www.leoysterbar.com/
Price: Oysters, market price; daily dozen, $28; seafood and starters, $6 to $14; plates, $15.
Details: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Corkage fe2, $20. Street parking, or valet, $5. No reservations.