Midtown Oyster Bar was born when three Italian chef friends met off duty and joined forces, hiring chef Pierlugui Angioi from Sardinia to man the stove.
The restaurant opened in November 2014, and the partners recently changed the menu, keeping a few signature New England-style classics like the Maine lobster roll and clam chowder but steering the rest of the menu to the Mediterranean.
The narrow space is dim as good bars should be. A huge photo of the bow of a Ligurian fishing boat is on the back wall and another wall is lined with mesh screens filled with empty oyster shells and old lobster traps dangle from the ceiling.
Partner Angelo Masarin came to Hartford Connecticut in 2001 for a restaurant job, then cooked Italian for 10 months at the only bar on Fishers Island, New York, where he fell in love with oysters. Since 2009 he has been in Miami, working at Casa Tua before opening the Oyster Bar and Salumeria down the street.
Co-owner Carlo Donadoni trained at the Instituto Alberghiero Di Legno in Lombardy, coming to South Florida almost two decades ago. He runs the bakery that supplies the bread to several restaurants. The other partner, Graziano Sbroggio, grew up in his family’s trattoria in Treviso, Italy, and became a restaurateur, running several after landing in Miami in 1990.
Diners can indulge in a changing roster of oysters at Midtown Oyster Bar — check the chalkboard in the al fresco dining area out front for what is available. Every oyster tastes of the ocean, but the profiles vary depending on where they are grown and whether they are from the Pacific or Atlantic coast.
Oysters available on a recent visit included Fishers Island, briny and bold with a clean finish and sweeter when chewed; Island Creek oysters from Massachusetts, with an up-front salinity, vegetal notes and sweet finish; petite Malabar beauties named for a cape near Nantucket famous for ship wrecks with a briny taste and hints of kelp and miso broth; Hama Hama from Washington State with a clean taste and a hint of cucumber; and large mild Pacific Kumamoto with hints of honeydew.
One can also start with branzino carpaccio with fennel, pecorino and caramelized walnuts; a deuce of breaded and fried sardines with pickled onions or a Spanish octopus tentacle tenderized by a cycle in the washing machine with rocks served with hummus and rosemary coulis.
Mains include pappardelle with fresh sardines, basil and pine nuts; snapper and arugula ravioli in shrimp sauce and fregola Sarda, which features toasted pellets made from hard wheat grown in Sardinia that was brought to the island by settlers from Tunisia in North Africa in ancient times. The couscous-like beads are slow-simmered in a tomato based ragu here with bits of calamari and clams and mussels in the shell with basil. Save room for warm apple strudel with vanilla bean Ice cream.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food writer.