Our dinner at Foster's Oyster Bar, Restaurant and Market didn't start off in a promising way. I don't like being left waiting when I have reservations and the dining room is half-empty. I don't like it when waiters, no matter how pleasant, go past me and say Such-and such will be with you shortly but Such-and-such doesn't come. And I particularly don't like being seated, finally, at the very table I've been standing next to for 15 minutes.
I also don't like it when I call for reservations, the person asks if I want smoking or nonsmoking, I say nonsmoking and we get seated in the smoking section. And when I complain, our waiter explains that the nonsmoking room upstairs is filled. "So why ask?" I asked, fairly crankily at that point.
So you have to give our waiter credit for doing a good job of soothing our ruffled feathers. And I liked our dining room very much, even if it wasn't non-smoking. On this chilly spring evening there was a fire in the fireplace, making the small room warm and inviting. Its cream-colored walls seemed freshly painted, the chairs comfortable, the tables spacious.
If you go to a place called Foster's Oyster Bar, you've got to order oysters. You can have them raw or baked with crab imperial or -- my choice -- fried ($7.50). These were as good as you'll get, hot and meltingly tender in their crisp batter.
Almost as fine was a starter of wild boar sausage ($6.50). It looked a little daunting. (Actually the word my friend used was "scary.") The long, bright red curls of grilled sausage had been draped on a large plateful of braised purple cabbage. The flavors, though, were great -- the spicy meat complemented by the gently sweet, apple-and-caraway-flavored cabbage.
Oddly enough, it was followed by a main course that was visually appealing but failed to deliver. The wild rockfish ($15.35) on the specials menu was cooked in a parchment envelope with chopped peppers, olives, tomatoes, onion and garlic. How could a dish with all that have so little zing? And the rockfish itself didn't have the wonderful flavor of truly fresh seafood.
A crab cake ($10.95 for one, $19.50 for two) was a little mushy, but its biggest flaw -- like the rockfish dish -- was that it was under seasoned. (And I usually prefer subtly seasoned food unless it's supposed to be spicy-hot).
With our dinners came slender fresh asparagus, cooked just until tender. Now I love the flavor of fresh asparagus; but I do think it needs something -- a little butter, a pinch of salt, a squeeze of lemon. Foster's kitchen doesn't agree.
Entrees are served with the vegetable of the day and a choice of potatoes or rice. You'll want to order the trompe l'oeil oven-roasted new potatoes, cleverly carved to look like mushrooms; but plan to add your own butter and seasonings.
The back of the menu says Foster's uses herbs instead of salt whenever possible. That's admirable, but the substitutions have to work -- the dishes have to taste good to the customers who aren't on a salt-free diet. In this case, they didn't always.
Plus why boycott salt when you're serving up wonderful desserts like the densely chocolate delice, the creamy, full-of-eggs creme caramel, the rich whiskey bread pudding with warm, sugary caramel sauce and the chocolate-bourbon-pecan pie? You can't be that worried about your customers' health.
Foster's Oyster Bar, Restaurant and Market
Where: 606 S. Broadway
Hours: Sundays to Thursdays 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Credit cards: Major credit cards.
Non-smoking section? Yes.
Call: (410) 558-3600