There are a lot of words at the East Bay Oyster Bar in Barrington. At the entrance vestibule, names of ingredients wrap around you as wallpaper, to get you in the mood. Inside, extensive weekly specials cover enormous wood-framed chalkboards on the walls of the dining room. The table is covered with various menus. Our very attentive waitress, Katherine, asked us after a couple of minutes whether we needed more time to decide. Yes, yes we did. The good news is that all of the words about food aren’t idle talk; there’s action and a commitment to food here.
And the action goes in a lot of different directions, hence our hemming and hawing over what to order. This isn’t a focused oyster bar, a fact that confronts you when you see the flames of the oven roaring in the corner for flatbread. Instead it’s like that brunch feeling where you feel like you’re making a crucial life decision between sweet and savory. Certainly the world is your oyster if you like them, but you could comfortably bring someone here who hates seafood and they wouldn’t be scanning the menu for limited salvation. You could have one person chowing down on a burger, one cutting swordfish and another eating Penne alla Vodka.
For our first decision, we chose to sit in the dining area, rather than on the bar side. The room as a whole is very polished, with sweeping features marking the loose separation with the lounge. The bar at the far side of the room was impressive, with pillars and caged Edison bulbs for some flair. On the dining side of the room was a host playing the maître d’ role, circulating and checking in with diners. Maître d’s are a rare breed, and it’s rarer still to see one while hearing Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock,” but it was fine by me. I began with a strong gin gimlet ($13), with just a dash of basil.
East Bay Oyster Bar brings bread in from Olga’s and Seven Stars. You can’t do better in Rhode Island, really. The olive bread was delicious with some oil and vinegar. We had a little time to work on that bread as we waited for our grilled oysters ($8), which came as a trio. Garnished with microgreens, diced pickled carrot and a mildly spicy and creamy punch from the smoky sauce, I would have happily eaten a dozen of these. I was also happy to have a large portion of well-made Crab Cake ($14). Crab cakes are often an illusion of filler, but this one had that good lump, with a nice soft texture and just a bit of light and crisp breading on the exterior. Pieces of roasted red pepper added a little pop of needed color and flavor here and there. Along with a large pull of saffron aioli and crisp greens, this dish was a successful combination of seafood and saucing.
My wife went another route, opting for a Squash Salad ($13). The butternut squash was fresh, had been roasted with care and was still moist, and the goat cheese and cranberry they were paired with was a great choice. She did another appetizer as her main: The Oyster Po’ Boy Sliders ($12) are the Rhode Island version of the New Orleans classic. On eggy brioche with crisp salad greens and a big slicing tomato, these were surprisingly light, with just the right amount of jalapeño aioli. These would make a fantastic eat at the bar.
I opted for the Grilled Salmon ($26). There were many more local options, do not be mistaken, but we all have our imperfections and every once in a while I just need salmon. To its credit, I was able to eat it flake by flake, but there was more than just a piece of fish here. Served on a bed of wilted baby spinach with tender white beans in a lemon and garlic white wine sauce and dotted with cherry tomatoes, there were many familiar flavors with careful execution.
After all the deciding, it had come down to this: a couple of scoops of hazelnut and pistachio gelato ($9) to finish. It’s always a good sign when the pistachio isn’t green. With nice flavor, and a light and velvety texture, it was served in a martini glass for a bit of fun. This was a simple way to end a relaxingly paced, satisfying meal.
East Bay Oyster Bar
308 County Road, Barrington