Nautical Noshing at The Oar Restaurant

Local ingredients and a seaside theme are the hallmarks of Chef Christopher Lawrance's restaurant, The Oar

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Chef Christopher Lawrance has achieved his dream of owning a restaurant with an emphasis on sourcing local ingredients. Photography by Kim Bottalico
Chef Christopher Lawrance has achieved his dream of owning a restaurant with an emphasis on sourcing local ingredients. Photography by Kim Bottalico

When you walk into The Oar Restaurant in Vero Beach and look up, you will see a canoe hanging over the doorway. For Chef Christopher Lawrance, it’s a family heirloom. The canoe’s hull is painted light green, while on its interior, the natural wood is visible; the fine craftsmanship is apparent, and it is easy to imagine the vessel gliding across the water. It is meaningful for Lawrance because it belonged to his parents and because it reflects his own life, which has always been spent near water.

Originally, Lawrance’s home waters were Northeastern, and it was an early job at a restaurant in his home state of Connecticut that sparked his interest in culinary arts. “The chef tried to source local ingredients, and that inspired me.” Lawrance recalls driving around a nearby lake and stopping at farms to buy blueberries for his mentor.

Eventually, Lawrance’s interests led him to attend the Culinary Institute of America, which was another defining experience. “They use a building block system, and by the time you’ve finished, you’ve learned fish, Asian cuisine, Italian cuisine, bread, and so on.” An added bonus was that his dorm room overlooked the Hudson River.

After cooking at restaurants in Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Long Island, Lawrance traded the Northeast for Florida when he was invited to work at John’s Island, where he became a sous chef and continued learning from valued colleagues. The Oar Restaurant, however, is a special achievement for Lawrance. “This is what I always wanted—a small restaurant where I can do whatever I want and source local ingredients.”

That emphasis is apparent even on the dessert menu, a creative set of selections that includes lemon pound cake served with house-made local hibiscus ice cream. The hibiscus buds come from a local farm, where pink ones are selected. “The hibiscus adds a refreshing flavor and a beautiful pink color,” Lawrance says.

The nautical theme of the restaurant came naturally, too. “I’ve always liked the water; growing up, we went to Cape Cod every summer. My dad was a sailor, and he would race sailboats. There were always dinghies there, and as kids we could paddle around.” The coastal nature of Vero Beach makes the theme appropriate, Lawrance notes, and it continues with paintings from the Vero Beach Art Club, usually featuring marine themes, displayed on the walls of the dining room. All in all, the green canoe, with the family traditions and happy memories it evokes, is a fitting emblem for this chef’s restaurant.

The Oar Mixed Green Salad. Photography by Kim Bottalico
The Oar Mixed Green Salad. Photography by Kim Bottalico

The Oar Mixed Green Salad

Serves 4

Chef Lawrance works with Pepper Trail Farm to get mixed greens “right out of the field.” The seasonings contrast the sweetness of honey with the acidity of lemon and goat cheese.

Ingredients

  • 6 oz. local organic mixed greens
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 D’Anjou pear, cut in quarters, cored, and sliced
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese

Take 1/4 of each item, mix on a salad plate, and dress with Honey Lemon Vinaigrette.

Honey Lemon Vinaigrette

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tbsp. local raw honey
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a jar or cruet and shake.

Seared Fish Over Orzo Pasta. Photography by Kim Bottalico
Seared Fish Over Orzo Pasta. Photography by Kim Bottalico

Seared Fish Over Orzo Pasta

Serves 4

In keeping with his focus on fresh, local ingredients, Lawrance has made this dish with various kinds of fish, including swordfish, halibut, grouper, and red snapper. He recommends “whatever local fish looks good that day.”

Ingredients

  • Four 6 oz. portions of local fish
  • 1 cup cooked orzo pasta
  • 1/2 tbsp. garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. shallot, chopped
  • 8 grilled scallions, sliced 1/2 inch wide
  • 3/4 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes
  • 6 artichoke hearts, cut in quarters
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Lightly grill the scallions; let them cool, then slice.

Season fish with salt and pepper and sear in a hot pan until golden brown. Then place in a 375-degree-Fahrenheit oven until cooked through.

For the pasta: Sauté the garlic and shallots in olive oil; add the grilled scallions, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and white wine and reduce by half. Then add lemon juice, chicken stock, and orzo pasta and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and finish with butter, salt, and pepper to taste.

Spoon pasta into a shallow bowl and place the fish on top.

Lemon Crème Brûlée. Photography by Kim Bottalico
Lemon Crème Brûlée. Photography by Kim Bottalico

Lemon Crème Brûlée

Serves 4

Lawrance offers a changing selection of crème brûlée flavors, but this one is a favorite. “The lemon is bright and refreshing. It’s great for Florida!” The characteristic ceramic crème brûlée dishes are required for this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 lemon (juice and zest)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 8 egg yolks (from large eggs)

In a saucepan, combine heavy cream, 1/4 cup sugar, the lemon zest, and the lemon juice. Bring to a simmer and stir to dissolve sugar.

In a mixing bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar and egg yolks and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the warm mixture of cream, lemon, and sugar with the egg yolks to combine; then strain the mixture.

Add 6 oz. to each ceramic crème brûlée dish and place them in a baking dish surrounded by a water bath.

Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit approximately 20 minutes or until the custard is set. Let them cool; then top with granulated sugar to taste and carefully brûlée before serving. A specialty brûlée torch may be used for this purpose; Lawrance recommends doing it slowly and carefully and aiming for a light golden-brown color

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