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Astoria’s Mar’s offers out-of-this-world cuisine

Mar's in Astoria offers an array of shellfish on the half-shell along with dozens of other raw bar options on its menu. Photo by Suzanne Parker
TimesLedger Newspapers

Aaaaarrrr. No, it’s not the punch line of a pirate joke, but the letter that must be found in the name of a month in which it’s safe to eat oysters. While that bit of folk wisdom is not necessarily true, it’s as good a reason as any to hit an oyster bar in September (or October or November, and so on). Mar’s, a newish Astoria watering hole offering mollusks and crustaceans, was our target.

This former home of various Greek tavernas has been transformed in the speakeasy-ish trend of dark recycled wood, peeling paint, and a detectable funky fragrance into a place designed to attract a certain young crowd that would demur at being identified as hipsters. It also boasts some of the enticements that attract that crowd like craft beers, original cocktails, and beef identified by the farm from whence it first mooed. But its real draw is the seafood—especially the oysters.

Their raw bar, which changes its menu daily, offered an impressive assortment of East Coast oysters as well as wild caught shrimp (of unspecified provenance) and Little Neck clams. Try a selection of each in order to savor the variations of brininess, sweetness and texture of the different varieties. The oysters are individually priced, from $2.50— $2.95 a piece. During weekday happy hours, there are always a couple of varieties going for a buck apiece. After 11 p.m., whatever oysters are left are reduced to $2 each.

If craving a greater range of invertebrates, there is either the Plateau Royale or the Grand Plateau. These include some of the many types of oysters on hand as well crab claws, shrimp, clams and mussels. The downside of that is that without first warning us that they were out of claws, they substituted extra shrimp instead. The shrimp were exceptionally jumbo, but unappealingly flaccid. It is to their credit that they reject seafood that doesn’t meet their standards on a given evening, but not without warning the diner, who may have been eagerly anticipating those claws.

Ironically, the fine print on the bottom of the menu states “No Substitutions Please.”

If raw seafood doesn’t appeal, there are ample other tasty and trendy options. The clam chowder, suffused with bacon, is loaded with clams, while the potato plays an agreeably minor roll. An architectural heirloom tomato salad embodies what is wonderful about late summer. Crunchy fried spearing, dipped in seasoned rice flour and lemon made a delicate protein rich alternative to the usual fried bar items. This is definitely a dish to share.

For something more substantial, there is steak grites for two, boasting a 24-ounce New York strip steak from Painted Hills Farms. It’s served with truffle butter and a side of fries with house-made mayo. This beef, according to the Painted Hills website, is “grass fed and finished, and raised without growth hormones or antibiotics.” If you’ve been looking warily at supermarket meat lately, this should be reassuring.

Mar’s opened in June, and only recently expanded its menu to include brunch and dinner. As with many newbies, the service is bumpy. The pacing was erratic. Mistakes were multiple. Instead of the fingerlings we ordered, fries arrived, and preceded the seafood platter they were intended to accompany. A wrong drink was delivered. It was promised to be comped, and then wasn’t.

The Bottom Line

Mar’s Bar is nothing to Snicker at. Order Mounds of oysters or some Chunky clam chowder. Nestle into the outdoor seating with your Sugar Daddy under the Milky Way. They’re open until well After Eight.

Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

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