CRAB SHELL BAR TURNS ONE
Who doesn’t like watching a baby take its first steps? And if that baby can provide you with food and drinks, well, that’s all the better! Take that proud parents with your baby pictures! Your baby taking his or her first steps looks like a little drunk. A bar turning one year old, I’m talking to you crab shell bar at Venice Whaler, well, that’s pretty special too.
When the old Venice Whaler, a beach favorite for 70 years, received a massive makeover in 2014, the two-story beachside shack that used to be a hangout for the likes of The Beach Boys and The Doors debuted an impressive bar program and new beach fare menu. A year later, the iconic Crab Shell Bar, which sported an all-new look, new culinary team and new bar program, is now celebrating its one year anniversary. And now the famous seaside-watering hole has rolled out another new dining and cocktail menu.
The dynamic duo of Executive Chef Nick Liberato (who is featured as a culinary expert on Spike TV’s Bar Rescue and has also appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters) and Bar Director Anthony Settecase have once again teamed up to serve some of the best beach bites and drinks in town.
“Taking over this place has been like holding a tiger by the tail,” says Chef Liberato. “Families are coming in now as opposed to people just coming to the bar. We have learned that you can elevate beach-bar food; you can use fresh ingredients. Having a little integrity and creativity goes a long way.”
A new feature of Chef’s current dining menu is the addition of the From the Sea section.
“The number-one thing I hear people ask in the neighborhood is ‘where can you get good seafood around here?’” says General Manager TJ Williams. “It is surprising how few places on Venice Beach actually serve fish.”
New items on the Venice Whaler menu include beachside classics like Maine Lobster Roll on fresh brioche with a house-made lemon aioli; a meaty Crab Cake; Grilled Ahi Tuna Sandwich with house-made Thousand Island dressing; and a spicy and refreshing Shrimp Ceviche served on house-made tostadas.
While I’m not really a beach person, I have to admit that hanging out beachside at the Venice Whaler is just plain fun. It really is the perfect cure for the occasional “blue flu” (or let’s just call it what it is…if you’re going to play hooky, this is where you go) as a day at the beach eating and drinking is really one of the perks in living in SoCal.
When Bar Director Anthony Settecase came on board at the Venice Whaler, he was not sure customers would accept a more sophisticated bar program. “I have been very surprised at the positive reaction,” he says. “We are selling a ton of Old Fashioneds at the beach, man!”
During our recent visit we started out with some of the new cocktails, which are all plays on classics. The Chamomile Mai Tai is billed as a more refreshing version of the Tiki classic made with chamomile-infused light rum, orgeat, Curacao, and Wray & Nephew rum. While the drink doesn’t look very Tiki, it is a solid libation—just perfect for day drinking at the beach.
The Citrus Pisco Sour features a citrus-infused pisco and house-made cinnamon bitters. It’s simply delicious. This is an excellent pisco cocktail.
While I’m not a big fan of vodka drinks, the Vodka Lemonade, which includes muddled strawberries and cucumber, is a terrific vodka cocktail. This is another refreshing winner. If you want to drink during the day and make it into the night, the Venice Whaler bar has some damn fine options.
If you’re looking for a good, stiff drink, the Manhattan and Boulevardier on Draft are great choices. They are solid drinks and this is one of the better Manhattans I’ve had in a long time.
Not to be outdone, Chef Liberato deserves just as much praise for his new menu items. We started with the Maine Lobster Roll, which is very good and comes served on a very nice bun. FYI, one of the tricks of a good lobster roll is the bun.
The Shrimp Ceviche is a solid sharable dish, as is the new Shrimp Po’Boy featuring crispy beer-battered shrimp. If you’re looking to share a hearty dish, the Calabrian Queen, one of three new pizzas on the menu, is a winner. Topped with sausage, red onion and chili flakes (three of the most popular ingredients in the southern Italian region of Calabria where Chef Liberato worked for a time), this is a must. It’s delicious, spicy and filling.
Looking for more classic bar bites? The Chicken Ricotta Meatballs is an indulgent dish served in a rich and creamy San Marzano tomato sauce. “It is a really amazing bar bite,” Chef Liberato says.
If you save room for dessert, and hopefully by this time you are upstairs looking out to the killer beach view or maybe even a spectacular sunset, then grub on new dessert options like Baked in Venice, a play on Baked Alaska with burnt meringue-coated sponge cake, ice cream and raspberry coulis. Although my favorite was the classic Chocolate Profiterole featuring cream puffs stuffed with chocolate and vanilla ice cream. But then again, I am a chocolate fan.
“I do not think you can have a dessert menu without putting some kind of chocolate on there,” says Chef Liberato.
Fun in the sun or even a cool, beachy spot to chill come sundown, good times are hard to avoid at the Venice Whaler.
“More than anything, we are right here on the beach and it is a beautiful setting,” says Chef Liberato who still keeps his surfboard in the kitchen. “The best thing for me is that I get to do what I love in the kitchen and I get to surf every day!”
Talk about life’s a beach.
The Venice Whaler is located at 10 West Washington Boulevard in Venice. The Venice Whaler is Open for Lunch and Dinner every Monday through Friday from 11am to 2am. Weekend Brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 3pm. Weekend Dinner is from 3pm to 2am. Call 310-821-8737.
Story by Jose Martinez
Photography Courtesy of: Venice Whaler