Glasspar is the swankiest fish market in O.C., at least as of press time in early April. Rosy ahi, Scottish salmon, and pudgy scallops glisten with freshness behind glass display cases. Twice a week, locals line up 6 feet apart, awaiting their turn to buy seafood typically sold to resorts and upscale restaurants. That gorgeous fillet of Alaska halibut is ready to rock the grill or saute because it’s been expertly skinned, cleaned, and portioned in Glasspar’s shiny kitchen.
Batch cocktails and discounted bottles of wine also beg to be taken home. And perhaps consumed with desperate gusto. Such is life during virus wartime.
Before this ad hoc micromarket opened, Glasspar was Dana Point’s dashing new seafood spot on the footprint of Mahé, a longtime player past its glory years. But a terrific location made it a fixer with promise, so chef-owner Rob Wilson and team went all in with an extreme makeover that suits Wilson’s dream of a seafood destination built for a long run.
After a mid-December debut, Glasspar found its sea legs faster than most indie newbies. Wilson’s decades of experience include tours of duty at the Ritz-Carlton and Montage Laguna Beach and give this newcomer a stellar head start. The name Glasspar is a tribute to the iconic maker of fiberglass boats designed and built in midcentury Costa Mesa. Wilson grew up fishing from his father’s 1965 Seafair Sedan. “I’ll always be tied to this coast,” Wilson says. “My first job was washing dishes at the Dana Point Chart House.”
Glasspar’s menu stars no-nonsense renditions of the day’s finest and freshest. Wilson sources from an ace wholesaler and selected local fishermen. It’s a high crime to obscure primo goods with convoluted recipes, so Wilson keeps it simple. It doesn’t get simpler than oysters on the half shell, and the selection is broad enough to suit the pickiest slurper. The 10-seat oyster bar supplies a vibe with comfy eating, affable servers, and an icy stage for cracked Jonah crab claws, whole lobsters, and crab legs.
Six fat white Baja prawns in a cocktail are sweet, chilly delights beside dots of zingy sauce and a tangle of cool ribbons of cucumber slick with vinaigrette. Yellowtail crudo needs help; it’s drowning on this visit in a sea of aguachile that requires a spoon. Far better are the oysters Rockefeller bubbling in a concoction of Pernod, spinach, bacon, and cotija cheese. Wilson says he’s not ready to share the entire magic formula, so for now, he makes every order himself. Charred octopus boosted with cracked olives, pole beans, and romesco is popular and likely the most contemporary of the starters. It’s not daring, but rather, a commendable execution of a tricky dish.
Batter-fried cod and duck fat potatoes, a special, should have permanent entree status. It’s a winner with its IPA-spiked batter and flaky cod. And, oh, those duck fat fries—crispy wedges of deep gold delight—make this the fish ’n’ chips of dreams. Another side dish, charred baby Brussels sprouts, nudges the fresh line-caught Catalina swordfish with lentils and balsamic reduction into the highly recommended lane.
Do not overlook the trio of Prime beef offerings hiding in the bottom corner of the menu. These options allow surf-and-turf combos or welcome relief for that seafood avoider in your party. Blackberry-thyme braised short rib is a surprise bestseller. Grilled Prime hanger steak gets the bistro treatment, complete with roasted bone marrow.
Much attention to libations ensures half the menu is devoted to well-considered cocktails, wine, and beer. The bar serves as a draft room since both wine and beer are on tap. Thanks to some nifty new delivery tech, 10 wines we see only in bottles, such as Tablas Creek, are on tap here. Cocktails cover classics, and house signature drinks, say, the Club Lido, are named for models in the long-retired Glasspar line.
Elevation and wraparound windows give Glasspar a bit of a perch over the harbor, pulling boatloads of natural light into the room. It’s a sprawling venue that meanders from patio to fire pits, bar to dining room. Once gatherings and events resume, Glasspar is the next new spot for coastal celebrations.
But for now, Glasspar is Dana Point’s sweet find for ultra-fresh fish at splendid prices. Wilson is on hand to give five-star advice for coaxing the best from the day’s catch. And though Glasspar brings locals together 6 feet apart, Wilson would rather be in the kitchen every night. When that time comes, Glasspar will pivot once more, giving Dana Point a destination where seafood lovers gather close enough to raise a toast to better times.
24961 Dana Point Harbor Drive,
5 BEST DISHES
Batter-fried cod and duck fat fries
Baja prawn cocktail
Braised short rib
Starters $6 to $19; entrees $22 to $87
Diners ordered 12,500 oysters in Glasspar’s first five weeks.
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