Awe Shucks

By Camas Davis May 19, 2009 Published in the April 2006 issue of Portland Monthly

"A lot of people who come in think they are going to get Shrimp Louis and Oysters Rockefeller," says Peter Hochman, owner of Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill. But Hochman is adamant: "This is not your father’s oyster bar."

Nor is it his mother’s. "I grew up believing vegetables came from a can," quips Hochman, who spent his youth on the Chesapeake Bay. "By the time I was 12 I found myself wandering to the water to catch my own dinner-usually soft-shell crabs or rockfish that I’d sauté with butter and capers."

Hochman parlayed that early culinary curiosity into Alberta Street, joining forces with chef Eric Bechard to create a high-low menu that simultaneously reflects the opulence and the salty simplicity of oysters. A lone diner seated at the bar—slurping a dozen Kumamotos and tipping back a pint on a Monday night—is as likely here as a gussied-up party of five on a Friday evening sipping cosmopolitans and feasting on seared diver scallops over tiny beluga lentils in chicken liver sauce.

The atmosphere exudes a similar philosophy. Many walls are painted with a glitzy oyster-shell sheen, but the oyster "bar" in the back is an unassuming shucking station. Likewise, unpretentious waitstaff impress connoisseurs and oyster virgins alike with pearls of knowledge. And the prices? "We want people to get out for $20 a head," says Hochman. Of course, it’s easy to spend more, but the fact that you don’t have to makes this everybody’s oyster bar.