Cherry Creek’s Blue Island Oyster Bar gains a seafood lover following
It’s the midday calm before the storm that’s New Year’s Eve, and the jubilant women at the next table are discussing—what else?—shoes, little black dresses, the male species and sex. The latter topics, of course, are kicked around while sipping Champagne and polishing off a splay of oysters. Whether the women are expecting the bivalves—notorious for their aphrodisiac quality—to give them the courage to prowl for Casanova is unclear, but there’s no doubt that the more oysters and bubbly they consume, the more animated they become.
My lunch companion, who happens to be my mother, clearly has felt the effect of their infectious mirth. “Let’s get oysters,” she declares. We’ll have one of each, we tell our server, who describes each oyster in depth, working her way down the list of the nine featured selections, a mix of diver-caught and farm-raised varieties that zigzag from delicate, vegetal and briny to plump, creamy and sweet. They arrive propped on a spherical metal tray glistening with ice and arranged with wedges of lemon and small rounds of textbook cocktail sauce and a classic mignonette. In less than five minutes, they’ve sunk to the bottoms of our bellies. Ah, greed. Oysters might be the quickest way to spend $40 in 300 seconds.
And Blue Island Oyster Bar, part of Concept Restaurants (the crew that operates Ignite: Burgers and Bar, Stout Street Social, Humboldt Farm, Fish and Wine, Rialto Café, Table Mountain Grill and several other bars and restaurants in Boulder), takes it bivalves seriously, sourcing many of its oysters from its own shellfish farm in Long Island’s Great South Bay. There, they’re harvested in the wee hours of the morning and flown to the restaurant the same day, usually by 5 p.m., or around the time that the Cherry Creek crowd descends upon the bar for a ritualistic martini and to admire the stylish and subtly nautical surroundings.
The space, with its pearlescent entrance, driftwood accents and elaborate wooden oar sculpture that doubles as a roof over the bar, evokes a restaurant that’s serious about seafood. So, too, does the intricate map of the Great South Bay of Long Island that spans the entirety of the dining room wall and the metal cages, swelled with oysters, that stand front and center around the perimeter of the bar. There are a few rough-hewn elements to give the quarters a breath of rusticity, but, overall, it’s a stunning showpiece of modern architecture that fits well into the fabric of Cherry Creek.
Those who wear runway dresses and arrive with a dashing date will most certainly shell out for the “Chef & Shucker,” a two-tiered, skyscraping showboat of seafood and charcuterie that’s worth every bit of its $54 price tag. If you order it, the covetous gawks from those who don’t may make you feel slightly guilty, but pay no attention to their envy. Instead, go grabby for the littleneck clams and peel-and-eat shrimp, the smoked salmon dip and crimson-hued, sesame-slicked tuna poke nesting atop house-made wonton chips. Slurp the oysters with reckless abandon and discover the joys of garlic-scented salumi, a blot of Gorgonzola drizzled with honey and a seafood salad flush with mussels and ribbons of pickled onions. If I had my way, every dinner would start this way.
In a perfect world, preferably on a remote island somewhere with postcard palm trees, pristine sand and ocean breezes, it also would start with a plate of chef DJ Nagle’s exemplary Rhode Island-style stuffies, fist-sized mounds of chopped scallops and flesh from Quahod clams mixed with charred corn, butter, bread crumbs and Portuguese linguiça, then stuffed back into their deep shells and baked until their tops are golden.
Have you heard about Nagle’s clam chowder? Just about every restaurant that offers the New England staple boasts that it’s “world-famous.” Nagle, to my knowledge, has never made that claim, but he’d be justified if he did. The best clam chowder I’ve ever had was in Seattle. It was a tiny place on a corner in an alley near Pike’s Place Market, and the chowder—all cream, fleshy clams scented with the salt of the sea, bacon, butter and red potatoes—was an epiphany. Nagle’s terrific clam chowder, served in a mug and festooned with crisp-edged clam fritters, gives the Seattle marvel a run for its money. If we were all sensible people, we’d resolve the woes of war, politics and world peace over a mug of that clam chowder.
Speaking of clams, I dissolved into euphoria the first time I tried Blue Island’s clam linguini, then a vibrantly flavored tangle of wine, lots of butter and garlic, a shower of fresh herbs, crushed red pepper and cherrystone clams. But on a more recent visit, it was timidly seasoned and too soupy; nor did I have much love for the meat in the clams, which chewed the way you’d expect if you were eating a memory foam mattress.
And while I love octopus, paired here with crumbles of chorizo and smashed potatoes sloshed with olive oil, I’m pretty sure you can find a much better plate of octopus elsewhere. On the two occasions I tried it, I was surprised by its dry texture and less than successful execution.
On the other hand, I have no fish fight whatsoever with Nagle’s lobster roll, a maddeningly seductive mix of flesh from the tail and claw dressed lightly with mayonnaise punctuated with very few frills, save for chopped celery and a dusting of celery salt. It’s requisitely messy, served on a buttered bun with a leaf of butter lettuce and matched with a side of thin (and very good) fries.
If there’s one thing about Blue Oyster Bar that perplexes me, it’s the woefully pedestrian beer list. It wasn’t particularly pedigreed to begin with (Just two beers on tap? In a beer-soaked city like Denver? Really?), but during dinner one evening, the bar had been emptied of all three beers that I’d ordered. Still, not everyone is in the beer geek circle, and the wine and Champagne syllabus is more than rewarding—and even a little rambunctious. A lot like those women sucking down oysters and hedging their bets over flutes of bubbles.
Location: 2625 E. Second Ave.; 303.333.2462; blueislandoysterbar.com
Prices: starters $6-$54; entrees $12-$26; desserts $6-$9
Menu highlights: The “Chef and Shucker” platter, oysters, stuffies, clam chowder and the lobster roll.
Service: Proper, friendly and efficient.
Details: All major credit cards accepted. Full bar. Metered and garage parking. Reservations highly recommended at dinner.
Our rating system guide:
★★ Very good