Summer clambake at Rush Street
Culver City, California
You can take the boy out of New England, but you can never take New England out of the boy. When I received an invitation to join a small group of food bloggers at Culver City’s Rush Street for a summer clambake I was awash in a wave of nostalgia, recalling cracking open lobster, quahogs, crab and mussels steamed between beds of seaweed in a euphoric orgy of bivalve and crustacean indulgence. I suppose in my haste that I forgot that this is L.A., not Boston, and the local rendition of the clambake was open to interpretation. The first tip-off was the listing of one of the ingredients: Andouille sausage. Although you typically would not find this spicy pork meat torpedo in a traditional New England clambake I was willing to suspend disbelief and pretend the Acadians from present-day Maine who resettled in Louisiana as Cajuns merged the French sausage with the clambake concept. I eventually decided to simply forget what I knew about clambakes and experience Rush Street’s version, judging it on its own merit.
For the summer clambake (which runs every Friday and Saturday through Labor Day weekend), you can enjoy their clambake on the upstairs patio or in the downstairs dining area, although I recommend the patio so that with the breeze blowing and the teeming Culver City metropolis muted by tall wooden panels you can imagine yourself in a backyard in Chatham on the Cape (or Bayou La Batre, if you prefer). Dining al fresco, the high tables were draped in faux blue gingham tablecloths (it looked like someone had raided Dorothy Gale’s wardrobe) with kiddie-sized, sand and seashell-filled plastic pails as centerpieces. In addition to the clambake, we selected other seafood menu options in keeping with the theme and started with crisp, summer cocktails; I started with an orange ginger martini featuring Canton ginger liqueur, fresh orange and dominated by Ketel One Oranje vodka that gave the drink a sting like a Portuguese Man o’ War. Most guests sipped equally refreshing drinks with names hinting at summer such as Poolside, Spicy Watermelon Margarita, and Pear Flower Martini.
For the lobster component, we ordered the lobster and shrimp eggrolls; these were stuffed with crisp vegetables, liberally sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds and accompanied by a thin peanut sauce and soy-based dipping sauce on the side. The eggrolls were firm and crispy and the flavor of the lobster and shrimp cut through the other ingredients. Their light, golden fried calamari featured Cajun spices and was neither too salty or greasy and we offset the fried foods with a couple of delicious seafood-based salads: a rather substantial salad niçoise with seared albacore, artichoke, green beans, and potatoes and crowned with a sliced hard-boiled egg; and, a wholesome jumbo shrimp salad tossed with pecans, cranberries, Asian pear and cheddar cheese shavings. The ambitious crab-stuffed salmon sat in a fishy brick atop a phalanx of corn ravioli, and while packed with flavor it tended to lean a little on the sweet side. The Dungeness crab chowder with corn, carrots and cilantro and served in a sourdough bread bowl was the perfect opening act; it was a soup that even those who aren’t fans of seafood would likely enjoy and the leftover bread from the bowl would prove handy later for sopping up the broth from the clambake.
The clambake itself was worth waiting for; the black mussels was the only component that would be represented in a New England clambake, but the combination of Manila clams, shrimp, Andouille sausage, cob corn and new potatoes merged to create an aromatic and flavorful dish that made me not give a damn about its pedigree. Cooking shrimp and shellfish requires a certain amount of finesse in order to ensure you don’t end up with one component having the consistency of a soft-boiled egg while the other could double as a Super Ball. The only downside is that the steaming of the sausage with the rest of the clambake seemed to take some of the fight out of it, but it still maintained some flavor. The potatoes were cooked all the way through and the corn was soft without being mushy; although the dish was topped with some crostini, the rich broth was better enjoyed with the leftover sourdough from the crab chowder. While engorging ourselves on shellfish, friend Eddie Lin ordered the prime rib, which I likened to ordering a bacon explosion at a bar mitzvah – until I tried a bite. The meat was hot, baby-soft and juicy (read: bloody) and it was so good that several of the other diners ordered one to split for desert.
If meat isn’t your cup of pudding, there are other magnificent head-sized desserts available. Although I don’t really care much for sweets, their desserts tasted homemade – the moist carrot cake was bereft of the familiar sugary, sticky frosting and the toasted coconut shavings on top added a nice accent to it; the flourless chocolate torte had the consistency and taste of chocolate truffles. I ended up eating my words when I managed a forkful of the confection whose 15 minutes have long expired – the trendy red velvet cake. I would be lying if I said I hated it – what I hated was that I liked it, but please don’t let that influence anyone’s decision to demote the dessert back to being an occasional menu item along with the overplayed mac and cheese. Damn you, red velvet cake, and your luxurious white and dark chocolate filling!
If you are a New England expatriate (as opposed to a New England Patriot) like me and thinking that this is an opportunity to partake in the age-old extravaganza that is a traditional clambake, you will be disappointed. Keep an open mind and enjoy this summertime treat that while employing traditional preparation methods, takes the clambake to a new and comfortable yet exciting place; but if you’re a purist who goes with the intent to verbally lament the fact that it isn’t like the one you had back in Cohasset, do your fellow diners a favor and keep your damned clam shut.
NOTE: This cost for this meal was provided by the restaurant. The content provided in this article was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event.