Photo courtesy Buck &Rider
“I don’t eat seafood in landlocked states.” That sentence – along with its cousin, “Seafood in the desert? Pass.” – is up there on the list of trite refrains I regularly field from friends and relatives about dining in the Valley. When I hear someone say it, I have to fight a visceral urge to shake them and bellow, “Do you think we’re still in the 1950s?!” In a time before overnight shipping and advanced packing and cooling techniques, sure, you would have been right to be wary of the provenance of your crab Louie. But now? The Valley is a seafood haven, with casual fish counters like Nelson’s Meat + Fish and Chula Seafood holding court with luxe destinations like Ocean Prime and Ocean 44.
Then there’s Buck &Rider, the Arcadia eatery that bridges the gap between those two archetypes. With its elegantly rugged, Australian-inspired architecture, plush banquettes, stone fireplace and centerpiece bar, it feels cozy and inviting, yet also sleek and clean. It has the luxurious panache and hyper-attentive service of a shmancy seafood emporium, but with the down-to-earth neighborhood vibe of a fishmonger. And the LGO Hospitality property flies in fresh seafood from around the world daily. There are boards displaying each day’s ocean-fresh offerings and listing their origins: Ora King salmon from New Zealand, grouper from Baja California, halibut from Alaska, oysters from Massachusetts. In today’s sourcing-obsessed world – a particularly sensitive topic in the seafood world as of late – it’s a nice perk for diners. And it’s certainly a nice retort next time someone comes at you with that “no seafood in the desert” nonsense.
Photo by Leah LeMoine
I’d only been to Buck &Rider for lunch (primarily with my dear friend, Corbin, who makes regular pilgrimages for gargantuan slices of B &R’s signature lemon meringue pie), so I was more familiar with its stunning salads than anything else on the menu: the Arcadia mixed greens, to which I add massive chilled shrimp; the LGO Caesar, made even more decadent with a crab cake; and the XOXO Shrimp & Noodle Salad, aka the most umami-rich salad I’ve had in the Valley. (Oh, and the rolls. Don’t ask questions. Just trust me and order them. Order twice to thrice as many as you think you’ll want. They’re that good.)
With all of my lunch love for this spot, I was obviously thrilled when my PR pal, Nicole, invited me for a media happy hour tasting. I learned that happy hour is a big deal at Buck &Rider – so much so that it’s offered daily in the bar, patio and alcove area (see THE DETAILS, below). Happy hour food offerings are chosen every day by the B &R chefs, so the menu varies, but as of this writing, all HH dishes are $10.
We go with the Voodoo fried rice, a spicy and deeply savory mix of shrimp, chicken, peas, red Fresno chiles, veg and gochujang, topped with microgreens and chives. I’m a fried rice aficionado, and this one is perfect: great interplay of flavors and textures, moist but not oily, crisp in some bits and soft in others. The heat is on the edge for me, noted spice pansy, but it’s so yummy I persist. The Baja shrimp ceviche also sings, with cubes of plump Mexican wild shrimp, cucumber, tomato, red onion and avocado tossed in a bright lime dressing. The ceviche is served with a bottle of hot sauce (Tapatio) and a stack of fried corn tortillas, just like it is in Mexico. It takes me back to a magical trip to Baja I took a few years ago. I can almost feel a beach breeze as I scoop up shrimp and crisp veggies with my tortilla shards and squeeze more lime over the lot.
Equally transportive, though not technically on the happy hour menu, is the #1 Ahi Tuna Crispy Rice ($16). Little bricks of glutenous rice are fried to an exquisitely golden crisp and piled with avocado, spicy aioli, sesame and pristine ahi tuna. Deee-viiiine, and something I can picture eating in Tokyo or Honolulu. As I ate rice cake after rice cake, I fantasized about a restaurant wherein every food is served atop these scrummy little beauties. Perhaps that could be the next LGO concept? I’d be a regular.
Other happy hour options include noshes like steak tartare, spicy tuna rolls, smoked trout dip and Edna’s Picnic Chicken Snack, aka fried chicken tenders with hot sauce and ranch. I’ll be back for those. Oysters are also a bargain during happy hour: $2.50 a pop. I’m not an oyster gal, but if you are, get here stat.
Photo by Leah LeMoine
Signature cocktails cost $9 during happy hour, while house highballs will run you $7 each. Select draft beers and LGO red and white wines are $7.
Our server recommends One Night in Babylon, a spiced gin cocktail with uplifting freshness from cucumber and even more spice (but not heat) from za’atar, a Middle Eastern blend of toasted sesame seeds, sumac and other spices, often cumin, coriander, fennel, caraway and/or thyme. I cook with it regularly at home, but had never thought of using it in a beverage. I’m inspired.
Nicole loves her Diego Rivera – Milagro Silver tequila, grapefruit juice and fresh thyme – and I pledge to order it next time, because it seems right up my Paloma-loving alley. For my second round, though, I go with another server rec: the Buck &Rider, mixologist Kevin Dunn’s take on the classic paper plane cocktail. The Rittenhouse rye almost puts me off – I’m not into whiskey – but our server assures me the Bigallet China-China liqueur, Aperol and lemon balance it nicely. And you know what? He’s right. It’s one of the few whiskey cocktails I’ve finished. And not just finished, but thoroughly enjoyed. Just like the seafood-in-the-desert naysayers, sometimes you just need to see it – and taste it – to believe it.
Happy hour is available at Abby’s Oyster Bar, the patio bar and the alcove daily. It runs Monday-Friday from 3-7 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday from open-7 p.m.
A NOTE ON SPACING
You may have noticed the lack of space between the ampersand and the ‘R’ in Buck &Rider throughout this piece. It isn’t the befuddling repetition of a careless typo on my part – it was an intentional choice by the LGO team. I asked Nicole about it, certain I’d heard or read something long ago about the ampersand and ‘R’ representing crabs mating, or some other briny metaphor. As it turns out, that tall tale didn’t hold water. Nicole checked with Adam Strecker, president and chief operating officer of LGO Hospitality, and reported back. “There’s no crazy story,” she said. It was actually a matter of aesthetics: When the company was developing the Buck &Rider logo, with ‘Buck’ above and ‘&Rider’ below, Strecker liked the look of the ampersand being conjoined with ‘Rider.’