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The Drake Seafood and Oysterette is Oklahoma City's half-shell hero

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Oysters are an acquired taste that isn’t that hard to acquire.

Trust is key to enjoying oysters. We’ve all had that dodgy piece of seafood — an off sushi roll or a just-past-acceptable salmon filet on a buffet — that has given us pause.

Add in the fact that Oklahoma is landlocked and you can understand a certain degree of hesitance on the part of diners. That’s why the most successful seafood restaurants in Oklahoma City are those in which we trust the most: Rococo’s crabcakes and steamer clams, sashimi at Sushi Neko or the seafood court-bouillon at The Shack Seafood & Oyster Bar.

Now, with Good Egg Dining’s newest entry into the market, diners have fresh oysters at The Drake Seafood and Oysterette, 519 NW 23rd St.

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A brief word about acquiring a taste for something: Practice makes perfect. If you want to learn to love Scotch, you have to drink some Scotch and figure out what, if anything, you like. The same is true of anything else. Punk music? Listen to punk bands. Fancy cheese? Get in that stinky cheese counter and go to work.

To love oysters, you need to try a few. Most restaurants carry a single variety. The Drake offers six fresh types of oysters so you can compare and contrast and figure out what works for your palate. Prices per oyster vary, but they’re usually in the $2-$3 range. Choose some mignonette (a vinegary condiment) to put on top. Try a little hot sauce or some crackers. If nothing else, you’ll get used to the splash of brine as the oyster slides out of its shell and down your throat.

But perhaps you are not yet ready to take that journey, in which case I have some good news: The Drake has a lot more going for it than just oysters.

As appetizers go, you could do a lot worse than Lona Faye’s Four ‘H’ Club ($13). A giant platter of cornbread hushpuppies, thinly sliced country ham, honey butter and hot sauce is the sort of dish that makes everyone at the table smile with good reason. Wrap the hushpuppies in ham, dip them in honey butter, dab them with hot sauce. It’s the sweet and the salty, the crisp and the chewy all presented beautifully. It has the interesting distinction of being a lot of food and still not enough, given how quickly people plow through it.

Much lighter, but no less delicious, is the shaved celery salad ($9) of celery tops, pickled golden raisins, shaved fennel and crushed peanuts tossed in a bright, citrus vinaigrette with Maytag blue cheese.

There are few reasons for a vegetarian to visit a restaurant that specializes in seafood, but this is one of them. Crisp and lively from the first bite to the last, it’s one of the best salads in OKC.

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Taking sides

Another two dishes are just as vital and require your attention. The Black Mac ($10) is a squid ink pasta tossed with Grana Padano cheese — like Parmigiano Reggiano, but easier to melt — and a hint of red pepper flake. Forget the color or the mention of the squid. That’s just marketing. This is simply a wonderful dish of cheese, noodles and spice that will propel diners through bite after bite. Don’t bother getting it with chicken. In my opinion, it adds nothing but heft to an already-

excellent side dish.

The popcorn grits ($7) are also a must-try. The creamy texture pairs with the sweetness of the corn to create a buttery, intoxicating dish. Granted, I think grits are a national treasure to begin with, but these are some of my favorite.

Add more green to your plate with the grilled Brussels sprouts ($9) or the Broccolini ($8), both of which are delightfully prepared. They just aren’t as overwhelmingly good as the Black Mac or the grits.

For the seafood lover who wants to actually eat some seafood, I recommend the grilled sea scallops ($28) for their tender sweetness and the crunchy spice of the crispy chorizo that accompanies them. The whole salt-crusted branzino ($38) is a meal to share and definitely has the wow factor of great presentation with a great, oily texture and flavor.

If too much fish flavor is your fear, the seared hiramasa ($21) is a good bet. The orange-miso sauce is bold, and the marinated fennel has the backbone to back it up. The fish itself is similar to a mahi-mahi — firm, but not overpowering in flavor. I liked it, but if push came to shove, I’d probably rather have more oysters.

How did a fried chicken sandwich ($10) end up on this menu? It doesn’t really matter because it’s excellent and you can’t punish excellence, no matter where it’s found. The brioche bun, the salty-sweet pickle slaw and the hey-hey sauce will make you wonder why you ever bothered with Chick-fil-A.

You might ask yourself, as your meal draws to a close, “Did I really just eat all that food?” Yes. You did. And you probably enjoyed every minute of it.

Best of all, you’re not done. The Drake Creamsicle ($8) — coconut cookies, orange curd, vanilla sherbet and sweet cream — is a great dessert. On any other menu, it would be the only choice. But you can get lemon cloud pie ($8), and it’s the most ridiculously perfect lemon pie I’ve ever had. You should get this.

You should get all of this.

The Drake’s motto is “Stay gold,” and it’s a perfect pick because this restaurant continues to raise the bar for eateries across the city by putting great fresh seafood at our fingertips every day.

Print headline: Golden shores, By land or by sea, The Drake is creating cuisine that raises the bar for Oklahoma City restaurants.

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