March 4, 2013 | BITE: My Journal

L&W Oyster Company Wants To Be Your Friend


 Co-owner Eric Lemonides’ sweetness never flags, as he runs between restaurants.
Co-owner Eric Lemonides’ sweetness never flags, as he runs between restaurants.


          I guess you need to be a Hamptons regular – not necessarily conspicuously loaded or a media darling.  Just a commuter, maybe, or even a local, is likely to know why L&W Oyster Company isn’t just another fish shack.


A paper mat on the table lists today’s oysters: Beausoleil, Fanny Bay. Widow’s Hole.


          Once you get that the initials stand for Eric Lemonides and Jason Weiner and that this newest venture is just around the corner from their Manhattan Almond – a chip off the original in Bridgehampton – you’ll expect more than fresh oysters and a decent chowder from these long-time partners.  They’ve been friends since growng up a few blocks from each other in Park Slope and roomed together while learning restaurant ways. 


Clams, oysters, shrimp, cauliflower-bread skewer and stuffed olive make the fritto misto.


          You expect to be welcomed like family, because anyone who’s ever been greeted by Eric twice becomes family. As for Jason in the kitchen: You won’t be surprised that between the meticulously fresh oysters and dishes that you love, will be some with more ideas then necessary.


The serving crew in checked shirts with rolled up sleeves reflect Eric’s sweetness.


          Eric commutes now between the 22nd Street Almond and L&W when he isn’t off in Bridge getting ready for the new season. If he’s gone, Antonio Rappazzo, the third partner here, channels just enough of that same friendly puppy dog welcome. And if Eric is actually bustling about here, amidst the servers in their various checked shirts, he’ll eventually be crouched at your table, sitting on his heels, explaining how he put up the explosion of colored Christmas tree balls in the back room for the holidays. And they look so good, he doesn’t think he’ll ever take them down. Of course, you have to agree.


Shiny Christmas balls went up for the holidays but Eric wants them to stay.


          Eater writes that seafood shacks are just the town’s latest culinary twitch and will quickly fade. Maybe not. The newest validation of the Mediterranean diet as life-extending might just extend the live of fish shacks as well. Let’s celebrate then, with local wines from the East End on tap – Channing Daughters, Paumanok Vineyards.


It’s a mess to eat but I love the lobster BLT in thick challah toast.

          If, like me, you eat Mediterranean half the time so you can eat like a Cro-Magnon hunter the other half, you’ll start with oysters. Pungent Widow’s Hole from Greenport is my favorite. As for the lobster BLT on toasted challah (can’t avoid that bacon), what is aioli anyway but olive oil and an egg, with good-for-whatever-ails-you garlic.


The Brussels sprouts come cooked and uncooked in a Ceasar-style salad.


          You’ll share the herb-crumbed clams, pretending not to notice the basil-garlic butter. And you’ll ignore the fritto and focus on the misto. It’s first-rate and features an eccentric skewer of cauliflower and bread cubes, along with skate and calamari.


Brooklyn lager, pancetta and corn nuts make it a Brooklyn chowder.


          Weiner’s passion for originality works well enough in the Brooklyn clam chowder made with lager from the balabusta borough, pancetta, and corn nuts, yes, even the corn nuts. I’m not sure why you’d bake your own goldfish, but these are good. And the oyster crackers are the best I’ve ever eaten, for however much that counts. I’m counting it.


Ahi Tuna gets lost in this clumsy pastry wrap.


          Alas, tuna ranchers turn out to be chunks of rare tuna wrapped in thick cornmeal batter. Octopus à la plancha comes with pickled chile peppers, papas bravas, and a saffron mayonnaise. That doesn’t work for me.


I like my skate crisper. This one comes with razor clams, roasted roots, chorizo butter.


          The skate wing is soggy; the poussin, just good enough. Cavatelli doesn’t need or deserve rock shrimp sausage and rosemary and gigante beans and olive confit. Three our of four accents should be enough. Nor should it have to cost $29.


Cavatelli is tossed with rock shrimp sausage, gigante beans, rapini and rosemary.


          Indeed even though the entrees are less than $30, by the time you have $3 oysters ($3.50 for Lilliputian Kumamoto), a few irresistible snacks and “Small Things,” and some “Medium Things,” plus apple pie with bourbon caramel and maybe the inevitable sticky toffee pudding, you might feel you’ve spent more than you meant to in a seafood shack.


The poussin, supposedly cooked under a brick, is flavorful but dry.


          Don’t let that inspire you to skip the amazing lobster BLT. Yes, there could be more bacon, and it falls apart as you eat it.  The thick slices of challah might seem overwhelming to some, though not to me. That measure of toast tempers the buttery richness.


Apple pie with vanilla bean ice cream and bourbon caramel tops a list of $8 desserts.


          And so does the sweet homeyness of Eric’s world. Too bad he can’t be there all the time. When he is, he’ll make sure you notice his collections on the shelves and wall: the vintage toy airplane, the Shell Station emblem and the general funk – the fry baskets holding condiments in each small booth along one wall, the pages from Dr. Seuess books papering the stairwell.  Above the bar is a copper-pipe chandelier with candles in Mason jars designed by Almond Zigmund, Weiner’s artist wife. Yes, that’s where the name Almond came from.


          There’s not much sense of a neighborhood on this stretch of Fifth Avenue in the Twenties, Eric observes, but word gets around, and “people are finding us.”


254 Fifth Avenue between 28th and 29th Streets. 212 203 7772 Lunch Monday through Friday noon to 3 pm. Dinner Monday through Thursday 6 to 11 pm. Friday and Saturday 6 pm to midnight.


Photos may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.


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