Seafood platters have earned a spot on my list of life’s simple pleasures. It’s right in between “the sound of my dog yawning” and “my girlfriend’s beautiful smile.” A cold platter of ultra-fresh seafood served on or near the beach is a reminder that we — as humans — did it. We got to the top of the food chain. We figured out fire. We harnessed radio waves for our own entertainment. We invented peanut butter cups. As a celebration, we sit and eat oysters, clams, and crab claws because we can.
On Thursday, I was invited in to The Hungry Cat, just steps from the beach in Santa Monica. Chef David Lentz now has three Hungry Cats under his purview, but here in Santa Monica he’s reinvented the menu by adding in a wood-fired grill. Mesquite wood makes just about anything taste good and Lentz’s menu reflects that beautifully, but it wasn’t the octopus or the king salmon that’s making me write this post (although they were both fantastic). It’s the seafood platter.
A seafood platter is one of those things that seems incredibly simple and, yet, takes so much finesse to pull off perfectly. The seafood has to be as fresh as possible and carefully sourced. The sauces — mignonette, cocktail, etc. — have to be worthy accents without overpowering the delicate flavor of the bivalves and shellfish. The shucking needs to be meticulous, leaving both shells and connective tissue out of the equation entirely. A proper seafood platter is an oceanic ballet that looks effortless to the audience after six months of daily rehearsals.
On the Hungry Cat’s seafood platter, I ate supple jumbo shrimp and two types of mussels. I toured the Pacific Northwest by way of oysters and used a cherrystone shell as a clam tram directly into my waiting mouth. I carefully performed a shell-ectomy on the Santa Barbara rock crab claws and was rewarded with a mini-mountain of shimmering white crab meat, sweet to my tongue. All in all: this seafood platter was magnificent.
Chefs can dress up their dishes with far-flung spice blends and sous vide cooking all they want. Distillations of basil into liquid vapor might be interesting once in a while, but there’s something special about taking the best of what nature has to offer and doing nothing more than presenting it on a bed of ice. It doesn’t reveal much about the chef’s skill in the kitchen but it proves they respect the products they work with enough to offer them up unadorned. The seafood platter is naked beauty and the moments between the first oyster you slurp and the last bite of lobster on your fork are just about the best moments of any day you could have.
Cheers to the seafood platter, one of nature’s tastiest gifts.