Finding a seafood restaurant near the beach isn’t difficult. But, discovering one that serves fresh upscale cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere is a tad trickier. That is until you uncover Fly N Fish Oyster Bar and Grill. The restaurant’s inviting location on the Newport Beach boardwalk feels quaint, as if it’s been a part of the local landscape for decades. The food is fresh and inspired, exuding the confidence and style of a chef who spent years honing his craft.
This is evident from dishes, such as the cioppino. The San Franciscan-style stew is a standard at most seafood restaurants. The premise is simple–a rich tomato broth laden with seafood and bits of fish. Yet, many places, even fine eateries, fall short of finding the perfect balance of ingredients to make a truly great cioppino.
At Fly N Fish, Chef Julio Hawkins spent numerous hours perfecting his recipe. The velvety tomato broth sips smooth, thanks to a combination of fennel, celery and carrots simmered for hours before the concoction is chilled in an ice bath. The mixture is pureed for thirty minutes until it reaches a silky smooth texture. Hawkins’ technique ensures the stew has no unwanted bitterness. Each sip exudes a briny essence of clam juice that washes over your tongue, followed by a waft of divinely balanced tomato broth. The seafood–a smattering of clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp, and bite-sized bits of salmon and whitefish–swim in a luscious red sea finished with a hint of reduced red wine. Succulent crab legs, conveniently split in half for the diner to remove the tender meat, complete the dish and double as a garnish.
The atmosphere at this beachside eatery is quaint and inviting. The narrow space houses a wooden bar, where diners saddle up to imbibe a variety of cocktails prepared with fresh squeezed juices. The open kitchen turns out dishes, such as cedar-planked salmon, spicy Ahi tuna poke and crispy fried fish. While hot savory foods reign supreme, the fresh oysters should not be missed.
Chef Hawkins sources his oysters from cool waters. The offerings change frequently, but on a recent evening, dainty-sized Kumamotos from Washington and gargantuan briny Naked Cowgirl oysters from back east are shucked to order. Served alongside are ramekins filled with a vinegary raspberry mignonette with diced shallots, a zesty cocktail sauce and freshly grated horseradish. Tables situated around us on a bustling weekday evening don platters of succulent oysters.
Bowls of creamy New England-style clam chowder are large enough to share. Similar to the cioppino, Hawkins toiled to perfect his chowder recipe. He tested dozens of different clam juices and scoured the country for his favorite bacon. Each ingredient in this creamy soup carries its own special essence as an amalgam of rich flavors.
While Fly N Fish’s laid-back atmosphere is distinctly Newport, the menu harks to a more traditional seafood house. Since Chef Hawkins spent his formative years in the Northwest, several of his dishes reflect this coastal flair. As a child, he fished the brimming waters off of Seattle, picked locally grown vegetables and hunted for wild game. These formative years outside of the kitchen shaped the chef Hawkins is today.
Farm fresh produce and sustainable seafood are delivered to the restaurant each day. Every component of the food is put into consideration. Rather than cooking with the standards, Hawkins seeks the best. The bacon alone is worth a notable mention. Nueske’s artisanal bacon comes from a family-owned company based in Wisconsin and is smoked for twenty-four hours over fragrant Applewood embers. The chef uses this bacon in his creamy chowder and also wraps the crispy strips around succulent seared scallops. The dipping sauce that garnishes the scallop plate is a blend of achiote spices and charred tortilla stock. The flavor exudes a smoky finish with a hint of garlic and pepper.
During the summer, tourists flock to the Newport shore and occupy most of the restaurant’s tables from happy hour until late in the evening. The only downfall is that Fly N Fish does not take reservations. So, you might have to wait a while for a table in the warmer months, but it’s worth it. During the winter, the restaurant is packed with locals. It’s the best time of year for those of us lucky to call this area home. Fortunately, the food remains swimmingly good all year round.
Fly N Fish Oyster Bar and Grill, 2304 W. Oceanfront, Newport Beach, 949.673.8400 :: FlyNFishOysterBar.com