Surf's Up at Blue Island Oyster Bar Tomorrow

BY MARK ANTONATION

Oyster bars and raw oyster service have become trendy in Denver restaurants, but Blue Island Oyster Bar, which opens tomorrow in Cherry Creek North, is taking shellfish obsession to a new level. The new seafood house next door to the Cherry Cricket is partnering with the Blue Island Shellfish Farm on Long Island, New York, and will offer several proprietary oyster varieties that the company will ship to Denver daily, with mollusks often pulled from Altantic coast waters in the morning that are ready to be shucked for dinner service.

Blue Island Shellfish Farm owner Chris Quartuccio partnered with Denver's Concept Restaurants (owners of HumboldtStout Street Social and Ignite Burgers & Lounge, among others) because he was looking for an experienced restaurant management team in a new market for his oysters and clams. At Concept, he found like-minded East Coasters in director of operations Sean Huggard and chef DJ Nagle. He'll provide farmed and wild-caught oysters for the group while Nagle will oversee the kitchen and menu of classic New York and New England fare.

Some of the oysters, like kumamotos, will have names familiar to shellfish aficionados, while others  — shibumi, Blue Island No. 9 and Naked Cowboy — are new to the Denver market and will be exclusive to the restaurant. The Naked Cowboy variety was actually named for the famed Manhattan street musician, and comes with its own branded hot sauce that was developed specifically to complement the flavors of the oyster.

Oyster buyer and head shucker Cory Egan will manage the prominent raw bar; oysters will be displayed on ice in steel diver baskets set on the bar counter. A Chef & Shucker tower will combine shrimp, clams and oysters served on ice topped with a wooden board of salmon rillette, tuna poke, sausage, artisan cheese and grilled ciabatta. A la carte raw bar offerings will cover caviar, ceviche, crudo and lobster.

Nagle's menu features seafood-shack favorites: clam chowder served with clam cakes; fish and chips made with cracker-crusted cod; clam "stuffies" overflowing with a breadcrumb, corn and linguica sausage mixture; and fried clam strips. "It's just stuff that I like to cook," the Long Island native explains. As a kid, Nagle says, he used to fish off the pier in Sayville, New York that now serves as the headquarters of Quartuccio's seafood company.

Modern dishes include tuna poke, black cod skewers served over Asian noodles with miso sabayon, and charred octopus with chorizo vinaigrette. 

The decor captures the feel of a New England seafood house with updated Cherry Creek influences. Weathered chairs and bar stools contrast with a sleek and clean-lined oyster bar while dim, architectural light fixtures shed a rippling, underwater glow against mural-sized maps and photos. 

The bar program will include seven house cocktails; Diver's IPA and Blue Island Blonde on tap (both made for the eatery by Boulder Beer); and an in-depth wine list that should please the Cherry Creek crowd. Happy hour will be offered from 3 to 6 p.m. daily.

Blue Island Oyster Bar opens at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, September 22, and will be open seven days a week. Closing hours are flexible for now until Blue Island settles into the flow of the neighborhood. Keep reading for a look at Cherry Creek's latest catch.