It was two years ago and I was passing through Los Angeles with my good friend Sally en route to Italy.
We stayed a night in Santa Monica at the Fairmount Miramar Hotel on Ocean Avenue, a grand affair with the softest beds in the world.
In search of food we wandered the avenue and tried one place, only to hurriedly leave when we consulted the menu and found it wanting.
By chance we stumbled on a small unassuming fish restaurant with a queue of people outside. They looked local, always a good sign, and we were lucky to score a table at the counter after a minimal wait .
We ate wonderful fresh fish, perfectly cooked, and freshly shucked oysters. The place was packed and humming and its unpretentiousness felt particularly special in an area of opulence and wealth.
I loved the experience so much that I vowed that on my next visit to LA I would eat there again.
This time I made a reservation well in advance and the day finally arrived last Saturday night to return. It was as good as I remembered.
As the name of the restaurant - Blue Plate Oysterette - suggests, oysters are central to the experience. The blackboard over the kitchen describes the daily offerings. Today's oyster selection include six from the west coast and two from the east.
Gigamote, Baldpoint and Eaglerock from Washington State, Laguna and Kumau from British Columbia, Marin Miyagi from California and Wellsfleet and Martha's Vineyard from Massachussets. My partner Rob and I decided to sample all eight.
They were all quite different. The waters they come from influencing the tastes.
Wellsfleet for instance are crassostria virginica with a high saline content and crisp clean flavours. The tiny Marin Miyagi, crassostria gigas variety had not much substance. The oysters were served with two different hot sauces and some shredded horseradish.
Another blackboard gave us the specials of the day. Trout was on the list!
After a childhood of eating trout, thanks to the fishing passion of my father, I miss the taste a lot, without a hunter gatherer to supply me with any these days.
Trout is available commercially in the States, so I chose the "Red Trout from Idaho". It was simply and perfectly cooked with crispy skin. I had it with Yukon Gold potato fries and a lemon caper sauce.
The trout tasted just as it should - like trout - an unmistakable flavour. I tried the sauce but decided it complicated the taste of the fish and simply savoured it by itself.
Rob had Roast Alaskan halibut over saffron orzo, lobster salad with orange vinaigrette. The piece of halibut was fat and succulent and slightly smoky tasting. I think it has been seared on a charcoal grill. It was served over the saffron-infused orzo with a rocket salad and a plump piece of lobster. It was a wonderful dish. We finished the meal with a shared piece of key lime pie.
The next day I returned to talk to the manager and to hear a little more about the vision behind the restaurant. Owner Jen Morten started her first restaurant about 15 years ago, an all day affair called the Blue Plate.
She loved the atmosphere of fish shacks on the east coast that specialise in oysters and decided to create something similar on the west coast and five years ago opened the Blue Plate Oysterette on Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica. It really struck a cord with the locals and has always been extremely popular.
The staff are almost all Latin American with a Peruvian chef called Paolo Bendzu - he most certainly knows how to cook fish perfectly. The philosophy of the place is to be unpretentious but to offer excellent food and service all at a reasonable price.
They did not want to share their recipes, so I am giving you my version of the Baked Halibut dish. I think substituting snapper or groper would work well.
BAKED SNAPPER WITH SAFFRON ORZO, ROCKET AND LOBSTER SALAD AND ORANGE VINAIGRETTE
For the snapper
Preheat the oven to 220
4 pieces of snapper-ideally sliced thickly from a whole snapper or use groper steaks
1 clove of garlic
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp chipotle paste
juice of a lime.
Mix the garlic, oil, chipotle paste and lime together and rub into the fish.
Sear the fish on a very hot grill, (charcoal grill or barbecue,) on each side for just a minute.
Place in the oven for no more than five minutes to just cook through.
200g Orzo pasta
water for cooking
cup of fish stock
3 Tbsp of crème fraiche
1 tsp of saffron threads
3 green onions thinly sliced
2 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper Cook the orzo in plenty of salted water until just al dente.
Drain and toss with the extra virgin olive oil, the green onions, season with the salt and pepper
While the pasta is cooking heat up the fish stock and then add the saffron.
Allow it to infuse for about 10 minutes then add to the orzo.
Fold through the crème fraiche.
ROCKET AND LOBSTER SALAD WITH ORANGE VINAIGRETTE
2 cups of rocket leaves
1 cooked crayfish tail- meat extracted and cut into thick chunks
juice of 1 orange
3 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove of garlic crushed
Combine the orange juice, oil, garlic and salt and pepper and toss over the rocket leaves.
Toss through the crayfish pieces.
Serve the snapper on top of the orzo with the salad to the side.