We may not have the romantic seaside sunsets for Valentine’s Day, but we certainly have seafood flown in fresh. And seafood is romantic. I mean, a belly full of lobster and shrimp makes my heart happy.
When I want it to sing, I treat myself to a happy hour that’s an acceptable fishy. Shuck for a buck, calamari, salmon flatbread, oysters? It’s all so sexy. OK, maybe not oysters. They look a little scary. But they’re thought to be an aphrodisiac. It’s never worked for me, but they certainly taste good.
When you eat good, well, you feel good. And I believe food, when done right, is love. (Besides, it’s also American Heart Month, and Lent begins next week. Time for seafood.)
So if you want a taste of the ocean with your Cupid’s arrow, here are my favorite spots to take you there:
Pretty much every seafood restaurant and even a few that barely wade into the ocean serve up oysters and $1 specials. But let me tell you, if you’re going to eat oysters in our landlocked metro, go to 801 Fish in Leawood.
To all my city folk, it’s worth the drive. It’s a mellow, smooth vibe, and happy hour has but one food special here: dollar oysters. The menu is long, offering oysters from up and down the coasts and Canada, too. The staff is knowledgable. (Hi, Will!) Like your oysters briny, buttery and sweet? Get a Rappahannock Sweet from Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay.
You want a drier kind of oyster? Yes, that exists. Try something a little plumper, like the Sun Hollow from the Lower Hood Canal in Washington state. And you just can’t go wrong with the cool, clean and massive Grand Duxbury from Island Creek, Mass.
Don’t be scared, people. I know oysters aren’t pretty. The texture falls somewhere between cold snot and wet putty. But you don’t need to chew it. Shoot it like liquor. Consider it an aquatic shot. Squeeze a little lemon juice on top, sprinkle some freshly grated horseradish and a little hot sauce, treat the shell like a cup and enjoy the taste.
As I said earlier, don’t buy into the aphrodisiac myth. Yeah, oysters look a little like a zombie version of what’s hidden in those Georgia O’Keeffe flowers. It’s true. They’re heavy on zinc, and zinc is thought to be like Red Bull for the libido. Still, I’ve yet to meet an oyster that makes me sing Marvin Gaye songs. If the slimy, briny delicious bivalve gets you in the Fifty Shades zone, I think it’s psychosomatic.
That being said, if you like oysters, go to 801 Fish and get it on. And top off your happy shucking with a Kir Royal: champagne, Chambord and a twist of lemon ($5.75).
Shuck for a buck from 4 to 6 p.m. every day at 801 Fish, 11615 Rosewood St. in Leawood’s Park Place. 801RestaurantGroup.com
Jax Fish House
Bringing the coasts to the coastless is the motto at Jax Fish House. But this Plaza restaurant also takes you out of KC for a little while. The vibe is so beachy with the beautiful fish tanks, white globe lights and blue accents, it feels like a mod ocean getaway.
People pack into Jax, so arrive early. It starts at 4 p.m., and if you’re the designated seat saver, order up a Jax Strawberry Lemonade — strawberry-infused vodka and lemonade. Fruity, summery and just $4: I’ll drink to that.
And we haven’t even gotten to the seafood: steamed mussels ($6), the delicious griddled fish cake dynamite ($5), peel-and-eat shrimp ($6). Those are just a few of the happy-hour options.
But Jax offers an experience beyond happy hour that I would suggest for any seafood lover: the Crab Boil ($45). You’ll feel like a New Englander.
You order it 48 hours ahead of time (Valentine’s Day diners, call them right now). Snow crab, lemony hot shrimp, andouille sausage, corn and potatoes in a spicy, buttery, lick-your-fingers sauce? It’s worth the two-day wait. And unless you’re starving, it’s enough to share with a lucky friend.
You can order it to go, but you’re going to want to dine in. Because the presentation is like something off Food Network. The crab legs form a spidery sculpture, hovering over a well-curated pile of Cajun yum. And don’t be too cool for the bib. You’ll need it when things get cracking.
Eat your heart out during happy hour 4 to 6 p.m. daily and all night on Mondays at Jax Fish House, 4814 Roanoke Parkway. JaxFishHouse.com
McCormick & Schmick’s
Can you say crab tater tots? I love it when a place as classic as McCormick & Schmick’s on the Plaza isn’t afraid to play with its seafood. The crab tater tots are what happens when a fine chef gets hold of stuff you’d find at a drive-thru fish shack and adds polish. It doesn’t stop there — fish tacos, calamari, firecracker shrimp.
Nothing is over $6. Comfort food so right it makes you want to throw on a pair of joggers and fuzzy socks.
But this is still McCormick & Schmick’s, where the sun pours through the lounge windows as if you’re sitting in an Instagram filter. This is still the place that makes a bag out of chocolate, stuffed with fruit and white-chocolate mousse. It’s definitely Cupid-approved. Happy hour might mean cheap eats, but there’s nothing cheap about these eats.
And let me tell you, the beautifully plated black mussels lightly bathed in white wine and fresh herbs with a bite of bread is, just: Muah!
Dive into the happy hour deep from 3:30 to 6 p.m. weekdays at McCormick & Schmick’s, 448 W. 47th St. McCormickAndSchmicks.com.
You may not be under the sea, but under the dim lights at Bristol you can float away. It’s hard not to feel indulgent when you get served honey-butter biscuits fresh out of the oven.
In Power & Light, Bristol is a favorite for power lunches and date nights, but happy hour is ripe for good times. Mellow music and seafood for $7 and under? I’ll take it.
They have a limited selection of $1 oysters, like the sweet little Katama Bay from Massachusetts. But the star of the show for me is the lobster claws. Chilled and served on ice, these big reds are only $3.50 each. Add a plate of shrimp scampi ($7) and a $7 cocktail like the Caribbean Hard Lemonade, and you’ll feel the summer seaside love.
Be it business or pleasure, delight in happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday to Friday at Bristol, 51 E. 14th St. or 5400 W. 119th St. in Leawood Town Center. BristolSeafoodGrill.com
Jazz, A Louisiana Kitchen
The epitome of after-work relaxation, at Jazz, come as you are. The vibe is New Orleans meets Kansas City in all the best ways: deep-fried casual cool. And cheap. If you’re the type that likes your seafood breaded with soul and ready to share, this menu is for you. A pile of popcorn shrimp perfectly seasoned ($5) serves two if you’re not starving and is even better when you order the catfish nuggets ($5), too.
Don’t skip the red beans and rice ($3) — if you’re going to eat Cajun, do it right. If your heart needs a jump start, order up a Jazzy Rum Runner ($3.50). Don’t let the pink color fool you. This isn’t a frozen cocktail for lightweights. Nah. It’s made of light rums, dark rums and four kinds of fruit brandy. And let me warn you: There is a full shot of Bacardi 151 in the straw. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Happy hour goes live 3 to 6 p.m Monday to Friday at Jazz, A Louisiana Kitchen, 1823 W. 39th St. There is also a location at The Legends, 1859 Village West Parkway, Kansas City, Kan. KCMo.JazzKitchens.com