Oyster wonderland

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach."

The latest outpost of Tom's Oyster Bar, located right in downtown Detroit, right across from the RenCen (hear that, restaurateurs?), and always crowded (they said it couldn't be done), is a worthy addition to the ever-expanding chain. Noisy and cheerful at lunchtime and after work, Tom's gives a very convincing impression of a well-preserved 19th century pub, with dark wood and stamped tin ceiling. New Yorker covers with nautical themes decorate the walls.

The oyster bar, as one might expect, is prominent, and the one shucker on duty was busy indeed. We were entertained as we waited for a table.

A variety of oysters is offered, identified by their beds in Wellfleet, Mass., or Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, or Chincotegue, Va., or Rappahannock, Va. An assortment plate is offered, one each of six varieties for $8.95. We realized that unless they were labeled we wouldn't have a clue, so we went with the Wellfleet's, which were delightful. Forgive me for mentioning that our very fussy eater ate a raw oyster. I was beaming with pride until she announced, "Now I've tried it, I don't like it — and I never have to eat it again."

The appetizer selection, hot, cold and smoked, is extensive, ranging from escargot to sashimi. Steamed mussels are served in a cute miniature tin bucket. We tried a hot assortment. Loved the oysters Rockefeller, liked the artichoke dip, found the Cajun shrimp cooked beyond all reason, and the calamari a bit rubbery.

Our teenager is something of a clam chowder connoisseur, and she was disappointed. It is identified on the menu as "Tom's" which is appropriate because it resembled neither the creamy New England variety nor the tomato-based Manhattan type. The oyster stew was much better, with four plump oysters (of just the variety that Alice's Walrus conned) swimming in cream.

Main courses range from local perch and whitefish to Chilean sea bass. Some combinations seemed dubious, such as maple syrup-glazed salmon, but the mahi-mahi ($15), rubbed with ancho peppers and broiled with a simple fresh fruit salsa on top, was delicious. The side of fresh julienned vegetables was lovely, barely cooked. Another winner was the seafood pasta ($16), a heaping platter with lots of scallops, shrimp, mussels and artichokes in a marinara sauce.

I wasn't as impressed with the panko-fried butterflied shrimp ($20). The chef did not butterfly the shrimp (a slicing process that opens the crustacean to look like a butterfly). The rice was inedible that night, though it had been fine at our previous visit.

Beware, cigar smoke is allowed at the bar and cigarettes at the tables up front. In back, there is a quieter and smoke-free space. The wine and beer list is extensive, with many beers on tap. It was St. Paddy's Day, so we thought it appropriate to down a Black and Tan, a mix of ale and porter named for the British troops sent to suppress the IRA during The Troubles. Cheers.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?"
But answer there came none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one. —Lewis Carroll

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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