Oystercatcher cooks up success

Tyler Hansen

They’re not the dishes your mom made — unless she’s some sort of culinary genius.

Imagine pan-roasted duck breast with ghost squash puree and rhubarb mostarda. Or braised rabbit ragout with sunchokes, bacon hash, baby pac choi and roasted beech mushrooms.

And perhaps the best appetizers of all time: lightly smoked Columbia River sturgeon with picked parsnip chips over wild nettle puree.

Such are the typical, highly imaginative dishes at the Oystercatcher restaurant in downtown Coupeville.

The cozy restaurant has dazzled diners for the last 15 years, but now it’s been taken over by a young couple who are building an exceptionally loyal following among foodies, wine aficionados and many others who just enjoy good food.

Tyler and Sara Hansen purchased the business from Joe Scott and Jamie Sastre last year; Scott and Satre bought it from Susan Vanderbeek in 2007.

Tyler Hansen has 15 years of restaurant experience, which started when he was in high school in Boulder, Colo., and took him to high-end restaurants in such places as Vail, Colo. and Lake Tahoe.

He took a job at the Captain Whidbey Inn, but then learned that the Oystercatcher was for sale.

Hansen has straightforward principles guiding his cooking.

“My philosophy is just to use really good ingredients that speak for themselves,” he said. “I use simple techniques and try to source all the ingredients I can from people who care about good food and flavor as much as I do.”

The hunt for the best ingredients usually doesn’t take him far. Hansen said he strives to incorporate a wide variety of local ingredients into his recipes. He gets a wide variety of vegetables from two farms nestled in the fertile soil of Central Whidbey — Willowood Farm of Ebey’s Prairie and Rosehip Farm.

The Oystercatcher’s menu is ever-changing, based upon what’s in season and what grand ideas pop into Hansen’s brain. His regular customers say he’s a master at finding unique and delectable concoctions, such as bone marrow with fresh-baked bread, watercress and currants.

The menus include more customary dishes along with more unusual fare common at high-end, gourmet establishments. A mid-April menu, for example, included King Salmon, Penn Cove mussels and beef shoulder tender from Painted Hills, as well as veal sweetbreads and chorizo-stuffed calamari.

It’s all been a big hit with customers.

“I’ve been really surprised and delighted by people’s adventurous nature,” he said.

Both Tyler and Sara put a great deal of effort into developing a wine and beer list — as well as whiskey, Tyler’s favorite — to complement their food.

Once upon a time, the Oystercatcher was largely considered a place to go for special occasions, but the Hansens are defying that notion. They expanded the hours to include lunchtime on weekends and the occasional brunch. They are now open Wednesday through Sunday, from 5 p.m. to close and Saturdays and Sundays, from noon until 3 p.m. for lunch.