49 N. Riverside Dr., Croton-on-Hudson 914-271-0702
Croton’s Chamber of Commerce should be giving Ocean House a kickback. On a recent Friday evening, we not only toured the town but patronized another restaurant to sustain us during our wait for a table at the no-reservations-policy eatery. Did I say wait? It was more a sabbatical. We spent the good part of the hour and a half a few doors down at Honey’s Bar, where we nibbled fried zucchini sticks and some pretty awesome Buffalo wings—but that’s another review. In any case, not your standard prelude to seared sea scallops and roasted skate, but a necessary one. With the edge off our hunger, and our attitude, we hustled back and were finally seated.
The place is tiny. Ten paper-topped tables and a five seat bar. But that bar is granite, the sconces are chic, the seascapes are lovely. Benches cushioned in blue and white striped chintz run along blue and white walls; above the bar a chalkboard features the night’s specials. If a seafood shack met Ralph Lauren, this would be it.
Charming, yes, but I can’t take my eyes off that chalkboard. I see wild striped bass, I see grilled branzino, I see Washington state Malaspina and Pebble Beach oysters. We swirl our white Burgundy—our own, since Ocean House has no liquor license—and toast Poseidon for the gifts we are about to receive. Chef Brian Galvin gets a hosanna too.
And boy, are we graced. Those oysters sing of the Pacific depths, saline sirens eschewing mignonette or cocktail sauce adornment. Smoky, tender rings of grilled calamari bask in lemon and olive oil. There’s a tiered gold beet and goat cheese timbale, splayed like petals in an O’Keefe study. Alluring, but I missed the crunch and dimension of its menu-promised toasted pecans. Nothing missing in chef Galvin’s clam chowder, however. Only the Nantucket air could have improved this perfect balance of shellfish, potato, thyme, bacon and cream.
Brian Galvin worked in a fish market during high school and cooked for years at Bedford’s Bistro 22, where he favored fish dishes. His passion shows in an expertly grilled filet of wild salmon, its richness tempered by a roasted tomato and basil butter. The subtlety of sea scallops is vitalized by lemon, mustard and a jolt of capers. I like my fish unadulterated, but if forced, my adulteration of choice would be Galvin’s Maine crab stuffing, here in complicity with a titanic slab of roasted skate. There didn’t seem to be much tarragon in its tarragon-lemon sauce, but frankly, with meat this succulent, I didn’t much notice and didn’t much care.
All of these came with crisply sautéed broccolini and a mound of wild rice, though potatoes were also an option. A special of whole grilled branzino broke that mold, its silken flesh galvanized by the crunch of Napa cabbage, the heat of wasabi-infused soy vinaigrette and the sweetness of ginger.
Fish this fine is not left to chance; every day, Ocean House’s buyer braves the Fulton Fish Market’s pre-dawn chaos. Galvin gets great fish and we get an hour and a half’s wait, but then, excellence has its price. And while we’re on that subject, the cost of these dishes, for this quality and culinary skill, is a relative bargain.
This is Ocean House, not Pastry House, so I won’t begrudge the mediocrity of desserts. Flourless chocolate cake and crème brulee were on requisite duty, and the crimson fanned poached pear in its pool of crème anglaise was overly chilled. Save the last of your appetite for the warm crumble of the apple empanada with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Or if you still need a little something, Honey’s Bar down the street has a Buffalo wing with your name on it.
Image Credit: Ocean House Bar & Grill