Simple, clean colors make up the palette of the Walrus and the Carpenter. Oyster grey and cool metal give an ocean air to the urban setting, where Walrus is crowded into a building with two other restaurants. Seating is cramped, with strangers bumping elbows on one side, sandwiched in by the "pass" (where dishes come out of the open kitchen) on the other, looking directly over ice baskets filled with today's selection of fresh oysters. But by the time you get to your seat, you'll be so glad to have one, the seating won't matter, and the view of the oysters, their salty slurp so close you can reach out and touch them, will tease your taste buds.
When I decided to schedule a Monday Night Lights column for the Walrus and the Carpenter, I hoped to bring you news of a line-free evening to saddle up to the bright oyster bar. I'm sorry. That's not the case. Arriving at 6:15 we still waited upwards of 35 minutes for a spot at the bar. It's still worth every minute of the wait: thirty minute on a Monday, or over an hour on another night.
Once seated, service was swift. Possibly even too swift, as by the end of our meal we had far more dishes arriving at once than could easily fit in our tiny corner of the bar. But each dish had to be savored. Simple as they were, they held the attention of the eater with phenomenal flavor. Asparagus soup cooled, with its Parmesan flakes and grilled porcini, as we slowly savored the scallop tartare (served with lemon cream and basil). The quick service wasn't too big an issue, but it's unfortunate when your meal is shorter than your wait for the table.
The food at Walrus was as simple and clean on the palate as the colors on the wall. Those oysters that we so close in front of us were perfectly shucked embodiments of the briney qualities fresh oysters should have. But that was only the jumping-off point for the meal. Spring radishes were served with cultured butter and, like the cherry on top, lemon oil. Simple radishes, yet one notch up. The star of our speck (a German cured meat similar to prosciutto) dish was not the Jersey ricotta, but the preserved pumpkin, kicking in the sweetness and truly elevating the dish. Dishes were truly as simple as the three ingredients listed on the menu, and as good as the long wait to get them.