Briny Dining in Beverly Hills

For months a team of craftsmen from the Northwest had been pounding and sawing, fitting mahogany panels to the walls and stained glass to the ceiling. By mid-May, the oyster prints and photos of Beverly Hills in the '20s and '30s had been hung on the walls, the brass coat hooks screwed to the ends of the luxuriously ample booths. And the latest fish house from McCormick & Schmick, the Portland-based seafood restaurant chain, was ready to open.

Set at the top of a mock village lane at Two Rodeo, the Fish House serves a very similar menu to the slew of other McCormick & Schmick seafood houses in the West. The setting just has a bit more cachet.

There's no question--of course you'll have the oysters, preferably the sampler of six different types from the Northwest coast. They're presented on the half shell, in order, so you can get to know their names. Forget the horseradish, these little beauties need only a drop of lemon to bring out their flavor. The oyster stew, laced with whole shucked oysters and bits of celery, doesn't stint on cream.

For a restaurant's first week, the kitchen was running remarkably smoothly. The menu, which is printed every day, offers a number of seafood appetizers, including seafood potstickers, live crawfish steamed with white wine Cajun butter and a bay shrimp and avocado quesadilla. But the restaurant's strength is in straightforward seafood classics. Without our having to ask, both the Copper River king salmon baked on a cedar plank and the Sacramento River sturgeon were cooked just until rare at the center. The couple ensconced at the booth across the way, however, were really swimming against the tide here, putting away not swordfish or halibut, but an impressive grilled T-bone.

* McCormick & Schmick's the Fish House, 206 N. Rodeo Drive at Two Rodeo, Beverly Hills, (310) 859-0434. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Full bar. Valet parking at Dayton Way entrance. All major credit cards. Appetizers $4.95-$9.95, entrees $9.95-$19.95.

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