Executive Chef Bobby Will drizzles some extra virgin olive oil to finish up the live scallop crudo appetizer. The freshly sliced scallop, shucked only minutes before, is still alive as it is piled onto a cleaned scallop shell and topped with green apple-jalapeno relish and toasted poppy seeds.Claire K. Racine|Westmore News
Executive Chef Bobby Will drizzles some extra virgin olive oil to finish up the live scallop crudo appetizer. The freshly sliced scallop, shucked only minutes before, is still alive as it is piled onto a cleaned scallop shell and topped with green apple-jalapeno relish and toasted poppy seeds.

Claire K. Racine|Westmore News
We have been waiting with baited breath for Saltaire Oyster Bar and Fish House to open in Port Chester. It was only fitting that, after a four-year absence following the closure of F.I.S.H., a restaurant deriving its food from the sea should take up residence in a village with a ship on its seal and "port" in its name.

Saltaire, which opened a few weeks ago in the historic grain warehouse on the banks of the Byram River that housed The Willett House for almost 25 years, not only adds a cuisine that was lacking in the village but does so in a classy, professional manner. Now that the service issues that existed the first week have been ironed out, there is nothing not to like about Saltaire.

Owner Leslie "Les" Barnes, a second generation seafood buyer and aquaculture buff, found this dream location close to the waterfront as well as his home in Rye and made it his own with the help of designer Kim Nathanson. Her father designed Barnes' other restaurant, London Lennie's in Queens, 30 years ago. London Lennie's had been started by Barnes' father back in 1959 as a fish store which grew into a restaurant. He learned every aspect of the business before taking it over at age 22.

Nathanson was very respectful of this great space at 55 Abendroth Ave. with its 30-foot ceilings and original exposed brick, said Barnes, letting its natural historic qualities speak for themselves.

Barnes hired executive chef Bobby Will, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who grew up in the seafood business in Massachusetts and previously worked in restaurants in Boston and Maine, to come up with the simple food preparations to make the straight-from-the-docks fish and seafood shine.

It's clear that after decades in the seafood trade and restaurant business, Barnes, 65, knows his stuff and is passionate about both. He has developed a keen knowledge about fish from going to the original Fulton Fish Market with his father since he was five years old. I haven't been to his Queens restaurant, but simplicity and moderation characterize everything at Saltaire, which opened Sept. 1. The simple, tasteful nautical décor in both the bar and dining room isn't corny or in your face. The fish, lobster, oysters, clams, shrimp and crabs come straight from the Fulton Fish Market in New York City or are delivered fresh from purveyors whose product Barnes has verified. Nothing about the recipes or preparations covers up the delicate taste of the fruits de mer.

Portions are generally moderate which I appreciate because fish, in particular, is never as good left over. Nor are you forced to eat more than you really should because you feel an obligation to finish it. There are lots of options here for fish and seafood lovers, so you can order a little of this and a little of that and go home feeling comfortably satisfied rather than full and bloated. Even the desserts are perfectly sized.

Fresh seafood, expertly prepared and presented, is not inexpensive, and neither is a meal at Saltaire, but in this case, I guess you get what you pay for. If you don't drink any alcoholic beverages, you can have an exceptional dinner, including dessert (clam chowder, lobster salad and dark chocolate cremeux) for less than $50.

Judging by my two visits sitting in the dining room and observing the interaction in the oyster bar, the staff is friendly, knowledgeable about the restaurant's offerings and interested in developing a rapport with their customers. The server we had on my first visit, less than a week after opening day, was pleasant, patient, personable and apologetic when a few things had to be sent back because they weren't hot. She even recognized my husband and me when we returned, and even though she wasn't assigned to our table, came over and greeted us by name.

Menu options

The menu options come in all sizes and shapes-10-12 varieties of raw oysters by the piece, little neck or top neck clams by the half dozen, raw bar selections (Maine Jonah crab claws by the piece, a one-pound chilled lobster, shell-on shrimp cocktail (1/4 pound) and king crab legs (1/4 pound), three sizes of towers combining various types of cold seafood, hot and cold small plates, four different mussel preparations, two soups, three salads, three ever-changing seasonal specials (early this week seared Rhode Island skate wing, pan seared Maryland soft shell crabs and seared Long Island blackfish) and a section called "Top of the Catch" featuring seared and grilled fish with choice of beurre blanc, smoky tomato relish or spicy plum glaze and two sides (choose from roasted fingerling potatoes, native corn celery root succotash, whole grain brown rice pilaf, collard greens, roasted heirloom carrots or charred cauliflower). Other choices in this section include two whole roasted fish (black sea bass or branzino) which are served on the bone rather than filleted and so require a little more work. Steamed two- and three-pound lobsters at today's market price of $25 a pound are also available, and these are served with drawn butter, fingerling potatoes, and corn.

"We decided we couldn't not have whole roasted fish on the menu," said sous chef Lauren Salvesen, who hails from Virginia but now lives in Port Chester. "The bones are easy to remove," she said. "Just run your knife along the backbone and the fish will slip right off the bone."

In addition, a seafood special mixes lobster, swordfish, snapper, halibut and mussels, blistered heirloom tomatoes, zucchini and saffron cream into a seafood stew ($34) on one menu or seafood bouillabaisse with the same ingredients except different fishes on another.

If you don't like fish or seafood, a meat section includes a roasted Statler chicken breast ($24), grilled all natural burger with pommes frites ($15) or grilled ribeye steak ($36), and there is also a thoughtful vegetarian dish ($20) which changes regularly.

The menu will shift seasonally (the fall menu is expected to debut in about two weeks) but is printed in-house daily because "we have to see what the boats bring in, and there are seasonal restrictions on fishing," said Barnes, who makes daily trips to the Fulton Fish Market. Saltaire, named after a type of oyster Barnes is no longer able to source, serves only wild fish except the branzino, which is farm raised, as the salmon will be in the winter. The farm-raised salmon comes from the Faroe Islands. Barnes has visited this remote location to check out the organic salmon farming, so he knows what he's getting. I read on the Salmon from the Faroe Islands website that although the Faroe Islands are located in the middle of the North Atlantic, fresh salmon from there can reach the U.S. market within just 72 hours of harvesting.


Rhode Island skate wing is currently in-season and one of the many sustainable items on the menu. "We try to do as much sustainable fish as possible, but it's not always easy," executive chef Will said.

Scallop shells are saved and used for decorative plating. Oyster shells are also collected and donated to the Billion Oyster Project, which reintroduces them to New York Harbor to create reefs, the habitat needed for future oysters to thrive.

Dinner for three

It was my second visit to Saltaire and time to try a tower. Since there were only three of us, we opted for the Hook ($45), which serves 2-3 people. The bigger towers are the Line ($90) and Sinker ($135). The Hook ingredients were served on ice in a large metal bowl. Sampling everything and sharing were great fun.

I'm a seafood lover, but my body says "no" to oysters, so I left those (there were three chosen by the chef) to my husband and daughter who happily slurped them up. I recalled from my previous visit our server's recommendation to go with the spicy melon and cucumber relish and sorrel verde salsa (made with the herb sorrel verde, basil, mint, olive oil, salt and lemon juice) as sauces for the oysters so as not to mask their delicate taste. We all enjoyed the refreshing relish, but I actually liked the olive oil-based strawberry mignonette we ordered the week before better than the salsa. Saltaire's house cocktail sauce (just the right amount of horseradish) and horseradish aioli also came with the tower to go with the briny clams (we got three), large succulent shrimp (four with shells on, but easy to peel), Jonah crab claws (we got three) and half of a pound lobster tail, which, besides meat, contained roe. Although some consider it a delicacy, I found the eggs, which are okay hot, hard and waxy in their cold state.

The My Mom's Maple Bourbon ($12) cocktail I ordered to start the meal paired well with the seafood. Made with barrel-aged bourbon, Vermont maple syrup, citrus and chili bitters, it was tangy and not too sweet. Of the eight creative cocktails on the list, all made with syrups, sodas, fresh juices and bitters largely made in-house, the four I've tried were not sweet (Saltaire #2) or only slightly sweet, which I consider a good thing.

Meals start with yummy cornbread cooked in a wrought iron skillet served warm with a side of unsalted sweet cream butter mixed with honey and sea salt. "The skillet keeps it nice and warm and the honey butter melts nicely onto it," said sous chef Salvesen.

Besides the cold seafood tower, my daughter and I split a bowl of the traditional New England clam chowder ($10), made with fresh cream, bacon and chunks of potato. Not too thick and chock full of clams, this chowder is exceptional.

For entrée, my husband selected the seared Rhode Island skate wing ($27) which had just been added to the menu that day and came highly recommended by our server. Consisting of two overlapping pieces of seared fish served with sauce almondine over sunflower seed risotto with a generous smear of broccoli puree, this fish dish provided a delicious blend of flavors and textures and a nice crunch. "You've got to try this!" he raved after taking a bite.

Seared Atlantic halibut ($32), a thicker, heavier fish served over Swiss chard and celery root puree was topped with smoked aioli and toasty "everything" granola made with granola, poppy seeds and other ingredients bound together with whipped egg whites. Sporadic dollops of mustard emulsion for extra flavor encircled the plate. This fish preparation, too, was spectacular, providing a similar and yet very different combination of flavors and textures-the softness of the fish contrasted with the crunchiness of the granola.

Wishing to try soft shell crab where I knew it would be at its best, I chose the small plate ($14) rather than the entrée just in case I didn't like it and was amazed at how tasty it was. Topped with a cucumber-caper relish and herb salad with a mild mustard mousse alongside it for dipping, the Crispy Soft Shell Crab, dredged in cornmeal and flour and sautéed in olive oil till it was golden brown, was first rate and utterly delightful. It's amazing that you can eat the whole animal-shell, legs and all!

A glass of Bailly-Reverdy Sancerre from the Loire Valley in France ($15) went well with my meal. Only slightly sweet with lots of flavor, it far surpassed the Toad Hollow Chardonnay ($11) or the Domaine Guindon Muscadet ($10) my husband and I shared during our previous dinner at Saltaire.

Dessert was St. Germaine panna cotta ($9), a delicate elderflower and vanilla flavored custard that was light and creamy with crunchy walnut streusel and mint peaches on top.

All desserts (there are currently three on the menu) are made in-house. In addition, three flavors of ice cream purchased from an outside dairy (vanilla, chocolate and pistachio) could change with the seasons.

The dark chocolate cremeux ($11) I had on my first visit, a dense, soft chocolate pudding topped with crystalized chocolate and combined with salted mascarpone, compressed strawberries and basil gel, was equally good, thick and creamy with a hint of saltiness.

With a martini and three coffees, our check totaled $198.64.

Simply striking nautical décor

Saltaire seats 150 between the bar and dining room. The former, to your left off the entryway, serves as both a cocktail bar as well as a raw bar or oyster bar. In fact, the full menu is available in this casual dining spot where a horseshoe-shaped white marble bar is the focal point. It is shared by oyster slurpers, drinkers and diners. Seating in this room is also at rustic wood high tops with blue-seated stools or at tables in front of the windows facing Willett Avenue.

The walls are a combination of exposed brick and light gray clapboard paneling decorated with framed burgees (signal flags from boats) and black and white photos of fishermen. Blue, brown and cream-colored tile and mahogany-colored wood cover the floor. Hanging industrial type pale gray lights match the paneling and exposed pipes.

The main dining room is striking with the same exposed brick, gray paneling and warm wood floor. Seating is at two different types of comfortable blue and white booths plus both round and square tables with cushioned chairs. The room is lighted by large round rustic chandeliers which can go from bright to dim. Colorful framed fishing maps from around the world cover the expansive wall that faces you as you enter the room, a sailboat hangs on another. Exposed beams and pipes are painted black to match the window blinds.

Tables are set with cream-colored paper placemats with "Saltaire" lettered in black, white cloth napkins and plates, blue water glasses and wine glasses with a bunch of grapes etched into each.

Hours and parking

Saltaire is open for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5-11 p.m., Sunday from 5-9 p.m. Currently the oyster bar is open a half hour earlier, but starting next week it is expected to open at 4 p.m. with an oyster-paired-with-beer-or-wine special from 4-6 p.m.

The new restaurant is looking to start serving lunch in early October.

A room for private parties that can accommodate 65 is under construction and expected to open in time for the holiday season.

Parking is on the street (paid until 9 p.m.) or in the free marina parking lot adjacent to the restaurant. We had no problem finding a spot on Thursday or Sunday when we ate at Saltaire. However, according to manager Hector Perez of Port Chester, parking is difficult on Saturday and Sunday when downtown Port Chester is bustling. "We are looking to do some type of assisted parking," he said. "We're trying to see what we can do to offer that because I know it is a little frustrating to have to circle around."

If you don't mind a little walking, there is always plenty of space in the huge Costco parking lot or The Waterfront parking garage.