Published by South Bay Accent magazine in December, 2016.
The freshness frenzy of modern diners coupled with today’s more adventurous palate has helped revive the fortunes of a storied ingredient that was once a cheap, plentiful food for the working poor before over-harvesting turned these yummy mouthfuls into an upscale item. It’s hard to find something fresher than oysters, consumed while still alive, so the increasing availability of these mollusks on South Bay menus is welcome news for discriminating eaters. The best place to find the most prodigious offering of this pricey bivalve is definitely the new Forthright Oyster Bar & Kitchen in Campbell.
The latest in a string of new local dining ventures (The Table, Stumpy’s, The Vesper) from chef/restaurateur Jim Stump, Forthright delivers much more than just succulent fresh oysters. Seafood is the specialty but carnivores aren’t abandoned, as seen in dishes like roasted bone marrow, a high-end burger and one of the best pork chop iterations in the region. As in Stump’s other spots, the focus here is on good ingredients carefully prepared without resulting in a humungous check.
But back to those oysters. Plucked from some of the most illustrious shellfish farms on the West Coast and around the world, the offering changes but can include as many as a dozen kinds, which are helpfully described on the menu. Try them with a squeeze of fresh lemon, a killer mignonette featuring cucumber or a house-made cocktail sauce with beets. Mollusk freaks can sit at a curved steel counter right in front of the shucking station and watch their treats being prepared.
The squeamish might opt for a cooked version, such as butter-poached oysters with garlic and cheese, oyster pan roast gussied up with bacon and cream, or two kinds of oysters Rockefeller that are rich and richer. Perhaps the most ambrosial of the oyster preparations, oddly enough, are out-of-this-world fried oyster tacos in which juicy mollusks in a crisp crust are enhanced by an airy slaw and piquant ponzu sauce on little tortillas. Or order the seriously addictive Peruvian ceviche in which chunks of albacore swim in a sweet, barely tart liquid with corn and sweet potato.
Mussels are a delectable choice as well, swimming in a bacon-laced wine sauce that invites plenty of mopping up with the Acme bread served by the restaurant. As at The Table, this tasty bread comes with a house blend of ricotta, good olive oil and a touch of salt rather than the usual mundane butter.
Small plates feature some interesting seasonal salads like persimmon with watercress and burrata as well as a pleasing crab cake stuffed with crab or charred Spanish octopus with burnt onions and shishito peppers. Charred octopus and a couple of other choices are reruns from Stump’s earlier career, like corn-based johnny cakes with butter-poached lobster, mascarpone and caviar — a standout main course from his long-shuttered San Jose fine-dining spot, A.P. Stump’s.
Mains vary but usually include delicate steelhead with creamy grits, succotash and exotic kaffir lime or satisfying plump scallops whose richness goes well with nutty farro, lobster jus and kale shreds. The aforementioned pork chop is super-juicy due to brining and nicely paired with white beans, bacon and braised greens. Less successful are pasta dishes such as a muddle of overcooked pappardelle with surprisingly tasteless braised lamb and radicchio without much bite.
Desserts are well worth ordering, particularly the divinely warm, lovely textured ricotta beignets drizzled with caramel. Cobblers show up regularly and are everything this dessert should be: not overly sweet with hot baked fruit and ice cream on the side.
Located in a former Hawg’s in a small shopping center, Forthright isn’t near the sizzling downtown Campbell foodie area but its handsome, modern look helps overcome the dull locale. It features concrete floor, soaring gray walls, a marble bar around the inside, different-height tables and a spacious heated patio in front. Consider the latter if an energetic noise level isn’t your thing.
Stump has learned a few things during his 30-plus years in the restaurant business so the servers here are trained to please, just like the cuisine does. The young staff is attentive and friendly without being intrusive and will happily guide guests through the voluptuous oyster assortment. The only thing better would be having 1930s pricing for the then-copious bivalve, when diners could blissfully slurp all night for just a few cents.
Forthright Oyster Bar & Kitchen, 1700 W. Campbell Ave., Campbell. (408) 628-0683. http://www.eatoystersatforthright.com
HOURS: Monday-Thursday, 4-10; Friday-Saturday, 11-11; Sunday, 11:30-9:30. Reservations strongly recommended.
PRICES: Starters: $6-13. Small plates: $7-16. Entrees: $14-25. Desserts: $6.