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The restaurant is modeled after a traditional oyster house and boasts a retro-chic feel.

By All Means

by Jamie Gwen | Photography by Tim Melideo | Riviera Orange County magazine | April 3, 2014

A few blocks outside of the traffic circle in Old Towne Orange stands a former breakfast joint that’s been completely renovated into a hip, cool eatery. The exterior still holds the same charm, but step inside, and there’s no mistaking you’re someplace different. It’s called Ways & Means—it was modeled after a traditional oyster house, and for shellfish-lovers, it’s paradise. Here, you’ll find sustainably caught seafood accompanied by seasonal ingredients. But it’s the mix of East and West Coast oysters that really shine—like pearls, in fact.

You’ll spot the oyster bar upon entering. If there’s a seat, grab it. That’s where you can watch all the action in the kitchen, which is led by Chefs de Cuisine Benjamin Wallenbeck and Justin Odegard. Or, choose a high-top near the cocktail bar—or a red booth in the back for a retro experience.

On my first outing, the vibe is welcoming. We settle at our table after a warm greeting. The manager is friendly, and he makes sure that we’re situated comfortably before our veteran server—whom we recognize from old-school spots throughout O.C.—appears. Drinks arrive quickly—a choice of classic cocktails, sakes and handcrafted beers are among the offerings. Bread follows soon after that, and the house-baked Guinness creation is a wow—rich with stout flavor and best slathered with Irish butter. It’s the ultimate indulgence that satisfies my carb cravings. Curry-apricot and French baguettes also fill the basket, and we’re off to a delish start.

For oenophiles, note that the list is a good one—wines from near and far, with familiar and well-curated offerings like the Nicolas Feuillatte NV Brut. With green apple on the nose and tiny French bubbles, it’s a top choice for raw shellfish. Choose a crisp South African white to sip with starters or a bold California red to match the steak options, and you’ll be pairing perfectly all night.

We order a bevy of oysters from the rotating menu, and I’m delighted to experience a selection of bivalves from both coasts that entices, including the Plymouth Rock variety, which comes from the original colony of oysters discovered by the Pilgrims. They’re some of the tastiest wild oysters from the East Coast—briny and toothsome. And they’re sensational when topped with Ways & Means’ spicy horseradish. The tomahawks are true to their personality—medium-size, with wonderful salinity. But it’s the Naked Cowgirls that really float our boat. A new type of oyster grown in Totten Inlet, Wash., these bivalves have a creamy mouthfeel and a melon finish—ultimately the best of the night. Throw in a few raw middle-neck clams, and you have a shellfish platter that any seafood-lover would be proud to devour.

Moving on to appetizers, the Hot Naked Oysters are neither hot nor naked, but they’re tasty. I would have liked more heat, but there’s a nice dish development here with chorizo and watercress, and a dash of hollandaise for a creamy texture. The tuna tartare is highlighted by a quail egg yolk and a painted line of harissa (Tunisian chilli paste), and it’s clean and unadorned with the usual flavor of onions or sesame—a simple twist.

Our dining foray continues, and I find the service good. It’s busy for a Tuesday night, and the restaurant is abuzz. But the timing is off—a common challenge for new establishments to rise above. Our mains arrive: a prime Angus filet, aged 40 days, served with escargot butter and one premium snail floating in the rich juices (the prize of the dish). The steak is lean and clean, and it eats well, especially when paired with the sides of barbecued corn finished with chipotle aioli and cilantro, and lobster mac and cheese—a decadent version made in the Swiss style, with raclette. I also like the seared organic chicken (consumed on a separate visit), accompanied by charred carrot puree and the signature Ways & Means Brussels sprouts (a good pick too, made scrumptious by Spanish chorizo).

The meal is overall a good one, and it gets even better with the desserts, which are whimsical in design. Don’t miss the Raspberry Eat and Mess Meringue, a sundae overflowing with housemade vanilla ice cream, Chantilly cream and a mix of raspberries in sauce and fresh form, all layered with dots of crispy meringue. (I hear the bananas Foster is killer as well, but we’re just too full. Maybe we’ll eat dessert first next time, because life is uncertain.)

I love the old-fashioned feel of an oyster bar. The staff is thorough, and the team is smoothing out the bumps that new restaurants encounter. I’m grateful for throwback finds with an innovative approach, and this one is just that. And how can you turn down an evening of bubbly and bivalves?

Who Goes There
This is the place where shellfish-lovers congregate.

Where to Sit
At the oyster bar or the cocktail bar

Perfect Pair
The Nicolas Feuillatte NV Brut pairs beautifully with raw shellfish, which is the specialty.

You Simply Must Order
Oysters on the half shell

Now You Know
The Naked Cowgirl oysters are a new variety hailing from Washington state, and they’re simply sublime.

Ways & Means Oyster House
513 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, 714.516.1800

Appetizers: $6-$26
Seafood cocktails and towers: $15-$85
(oysters and clams are market price)
Entrees: $26-$52
Sides: $6-$16

Mon.-Thu.: 11:30am-10pm, Fri.: 11:30am-11pm,
Sat.: 5-11pm, Sun.: 10am-4pm and 5-10pm