Barnacle Bill's Oysters (Sarasota)
Last night, my husband and I wanted some oysters. We had just visited New Orleans and had been disappointed by the taste of Gulf oysters. For those who are used to the briny taste of cold water east coast oysters, the Gulf varieties will be a surprise. They're quite bland even if they are large.
With this background, we went to Barnacle Bill's (Main Street) and experienced a very bi-polar experience. The oysters -- Massachusetts Wianno and Connecticut Blue Points -- were excellent. Both varieties were large, meaty, and desirably salty. Both were well shucked. There were no flakes of shell and the shucker had kept the oysters flat while doing his job leaving large quantities of oyster nectar to be enjoyed. There was plenty of horseradish provided with the cocktail sauce and the wedges of lemon were generous.
So what was the downside? Our server! She was sleepwalking through her job to the point where we switched servers.
At the beginning of the meal, she approached us. We said we were deciding among the oyster varieties and that we needed a couple more minutes. The choice on the menu was impressive with good descriptions: two Gulf varieties, two Prince Edward Island varieties, one Connecticut variety, and at least one other. (The online menu doesn't show all the varieties on the print menu.) In addition, a separate flier offered a Massachusetts variety.
The waitress came over again. We ordered drinks but explained that we were still trying to figure out our oyster choices along with the rest of our meal. When the waitress brought over our drinks, we placed our oyster order: Wianno and one of the PEI varieties. We were then told that the restaurant had only three types of oysters that night: Blue Point, one of the Gulf varieties, and the Wianno.
We were totally unimpressed with the server's performance. If we had never mentioned the word "oysters" we could have excused her lack of activism, but here was a situation in which her customers had twice announced their intention to order oysters. Still the server offered no warning.
The shortened oyster list wasn't even a surprise to the server. It wasn't as if she went back to the kitchen to place our order only to be told the kitchen was out of varieties X,Y, and Z. Nope! The instant we named our oyster choices she piped up to list the three available varieties.
When we pointed out that she should have told us about the missing menu items the minute she heard we would be ordering oysters, her answer was "okay." "Okay" seems to be the more polite version of "whatever." We've encountered this response before in situations that were anything but "okay."
The most intelligent thing she did was to send the manager over to our table without our asking. The manager asked if we would like a new waitress and we accepted the offer. The new server was a model of pleasant, competent professionalism.
Ultimately, the meal was very nice. Lovely oyster and nicely cooked fresh fish.
Since I don't know the name of the server, I can't warn you off her specifically. All I can recommend is that you ask about availability if you're considering oysters at Barnacle Bill's.
B Bill's is not known for it's oyster menu, mostly "Early dining" folks who like a nice plain fried or broiled filet of fish, as though they could tell one from another.
For oysters, strange as it seems, the new "Jack Dusty" in the Ritz has an excellent raw bar, varied and impeccably fresh. The oyster selection is usually extensive and the wait staff is enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Even though it is in the Ritz Carlton pricing at this place is not going to send one into orbit!!