Patrick McMurray, proud owner of his first restaurant, became world speed-shucking champ at the finals in Galway, Ireland by shucking 30 oysters in 2 minutes 35 seconds. Amazing. He loves each and every one of these mollusks, and the way he presents them and shows off their pedigree speaks volumes about his respect for what he purveys. He even saves the shells and piles them around the tree that's planted in front of Starfish. As for his lobsters, he pampers them along their last mile and gently
help them to fulfill their destiny. He understands these amorous sea creatures and treats them with the respect they deserve.
McMurry knows that lobsters loves the night-life. At sun set, their eyes turn red and they scavenge the ocean floors, lusting for food and sex. When a handsome mottled green and black stud casts his ten thousand tiny eyeballs on a fetching female of the species, he begins to dance, in time to a tune he hears with his legs.
In summer, female lobsters release a sex pheromone that subdues the aggressive males and makes them feel all lovey-dovey. She takes the lead, caressing him with her antennae. They both click their claws like castanets, then, enough with the foreplay. The male shows extreme gentleness during his eight second flurry, since her outer shell is very soft at that time of year. The deed done, he bunks off. If they meet in some briny enclave in the future, it's not likely they'll exchange greetings.
At Starfish, Chef Martha Wright puts lobsters into a pot of salt water which mimics their oceanic home. To this are added all kinds of soup vegetables and a nice bottle of beer, preferably one from the east coast. The lobsters, languishing on clusters of seaweed, consider this a glorious way to go, and repay us, the lucky eaters, with succulent, tender flesh--so sweet it needs no butter. We're happy with a big bowl of crisply seasoned French fries and zippy coral Mayo.
Unlike the group of oyster devotees at the table next to us who start their dinner with about six dozen oysters arranged fetchingly on tiered trays, I am satisfied with a humble half dozen. Though I adore fresh oysters, I've never really reconciled the fact that I'm swallowing living critters, whole. The pink scallop with it's coral roe, quivers at the indignity of losing it's outer shell, and shudders from the spritz of lemon. Ah, but it certainly tastes luscious. The Emerald Cove from BC is fat and sweet; the Belon is a flat and distinctively flavored mollusk. Not one to douse oysters with peppery sauces that only mask the flavor, I like just a spray of fresh lemon that allows the individual oceanic personality to come through. "Is there a recognizable difference from one oyster to another," asks my friend? Since they absorb the waters in which they're bred, they may taste metallic, woodsy, salty, peppery or sweet.
But there's much more to Starfish than presentations of shelled critters. Not just an oyster bar, this is a casual restaurant with bare wood tables, leather banquettes and a good bar that reflects the pride and enthusiasm of its youthful owner and staff. Aware that there are always some people in any group who are strictly "meat and potatoes," the kitchen offers a grilled rib-eye with frites and roast leg of lamb with roast garlic mashed potatoes. McMurray tells us the provenance of his doors: the two front doors are from the now defunct Old Fish Market; the doors to the private party room came from the old Rodney's.
After the oysters, there is puree of parsnip soup of extraordinary sweet and natural flavor with peppery overtones, plump with oysters, of course. Classic whole leaf Caesar salad with shaved grana padano is composed of leaves so crisp and green they look unreal, until we savor that refreshing Romaine character. Oven roasted black cod is set on perfectly cooked, firm, fingerling potatoes, carrots and green beans. No heavy sauces, but a pool of seaweed accented Miso broth that does not overpower the delicate and distinctive flavors of the cod and vegetables. PEI mussels are plump and clean, not a grain of sand in the bunch, and they glory in their steamy bath of roasted garlic and smoked tomato.
We wouldn't have expected fine desserts, but a new pastry chef is strutting her stuff. The lemon curd tart is excellent, though it suffers a bit from fridge chill.
With McMurray chatting to the guests, keeping us happy and informed, and Martha Wright doing her kitchen alchemy, we've fallen for Starfish, hook, line and sinker.