More than 4,000 oyster tags cover two walls at Connie & Ted's, the soon-to-open West Hollywood seafood restaurant from Providence chef-owner Michael Cimarusti. Many of them are ones Cimarusti has collected over several years, Cryovac-ing them in plastic bags and storing them away in a drawer: Bagaduce, kumamoto, Naked Cowboy, Hog Island, shigoku, kusshi....
Along with the lobster tanks, custom refrigerated oyster cabinets and dedicated staff for shucking, they signal the obvious here: This is meant to be seafood heaven. The gleaming open kitchen is equipped with three fryers (for all those clams and fish 'n' chips -- and there's a potato cutter mounted to the wall for the fries), a separate fish-cutting room and a wood grill for seasonal catches.
Cimarusti describes the 140-seat restaurant -- set back on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Havenhurst Drive at the location of the former Silver Spoon -- as a New England-style "clam shack." His partner Donato Poto, also co-owner of Providence, jokes that it's a "clam palace."
"I just want to do all the classics," Cimarusti says, "not trying to re-create or redefine anything. Maybe there will be a little bit of interpretation because we're on the West Coast, so Pacific oysters and varieties of fish and some wood grilling."
Expect two kinds of lobster rolls, fried fish sandwiches, oysters Rockefeller, clam steamers and stuffies (linguica- and breadcrumb-stuffed Quahog clams). He researched old menus to find "fun things," he says, such as lost traditional sauces. There also will be burgers and steaks and 24 beers on tap (all California brews with the exception of Boston lager). All the breads for the sandwiches and burgers will be baked in-house.The partners behind Connie & Ted's, set to open at the end of May, are Cimarusti; his wife, Cristina Echiverri; Poto; and Amy Specter Nickoloff and Craig Nickoloff, entrepreneur and founder of the Claim Jumper restaurant chain. The kitchen will be helmed by Sam Baxter, who was chef de cuisine at Providence. And the cocktail bar will be led by Laura Lindsay.
Designed by FER Studio, the restaurant features two patios, a private dining room, a lounge area and both a raw bar and cocktail bar. The Silver Spoon was demolished, and Connie & Ted's, except for a couple of exterior walls, was built from the ground up. Cimarusti and Poto only coyly said that it was "a few dollars" when asked how much the project cost. Its curved roof is emblematic of an ocean wave, and the walkway into the restaurant is reminiscent of a ship's walkway. There are elm planks, beams and bar tops, wood-topped tables, concrete floors, red booths and a cantilevered ceiling with lights plotted like stars in the sky.
The raw bar will spotlight 16 varieties of oysters, and in the lobster tanks will be three or four kinds of live crustaceans. "One of the themes of the restaurant," Cimarusti says, "is transparency," referring not just to design elements but also to the ability to view how seafood is being stored and prepared.
Despite all the trappings, Cimarusti, who spent his childhood summers in Narragansett, R.I., says he emulates the tiny landmark Clam Box in Ipswich, Mass., whose website says, "Although we don't claim to have invented the fried clam, we believe we have perfected it."
Says Cimarusti, "If I could reach that level of execution, I'd be happy."
Connie & Ted's, 8171 Santa Monica Blvd.