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Louie's Restaurant - renamed Louie's Oyster Bar and Grill - is well on its way to becoming one of the area's premier restaurants. This long-running Port Washington eatery adjacent to the town dock on lower Main Street, with its spectacular view of the harbor, is undergoing a complete transformation. Although the extensive renovations are only about half done, the changes are striking.

The first thing that one notices in the front room is that it is much lighter and airier thanks to new fixtures, a fresh paint job, and removal of the fish netting that blocked much of the water view. The most spectacular metamorphosis, however, is the back room. The large picture windows and wide French doors enable the diner to have an unobstructed vista of Manhasset Bay. The room opens onto a beautiful deck that now has about a dozen umbrellaed tables for outdoor dining. The deck will be expanded, according to new owner Marty Picone, who, together with a partner, purchased Louie's from the Zwerleins last April.

Most important, the food has undergone a major upgrade. The menu for the most part sticks to basic fresh seafood, but Louie's also offers daily specials that are somewhat more exotic. We had Hawaiian opah (a/k/a moonfish), which was cooked to perfection with a lemon-cilantro crust and a sake and black bean sauce. Maine lobsters are a favorite - Picone said that they have some that are up to four and five pounds, and occasionally even up to eight pounds. Oysters on the half shell are a popular appetizer. The night we dined there, they offered four different kinds, including malpeques from Prince Edward Island, which were served with two sauces and fresh horseradish. The Maryland crab cakes were delicious, fried lightly in a soybean oil.

Picone said, "We get the freshest possible fish. We have a buyer who purchases daily from the Fulton Fish Market, collaborating with the executive chef by phone." The executive chef, Steve Greenfield, was formerly at the Docks Oyster Bar on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan.

The accompaniments were fresh and well prepared. The old Louie's patrons loved the coleslaw; this one was different and delicious, with just a hint of caraway. The rice was fluffy and tasty, cooked in a fish stock.

We sampled the key lime pie, made with real key limes (not the Mexican limes that are usually used). The pecan pie was scrumptious, and not overly sweet. A favorite dessert was the "moose tracks" -- vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and peanut butter.

There is a good selection of wines by the glass and the bottle, as well as beers, including Guinness, Bass Ale and Sam Adams on draft.

Another Louie's tradition survives; a number of customers still come by boat. The docks have been refurbished, and there are new floats. The parking lot has also been spruced up, as have the restrooms. Picone and his local designer, Laura Casale, are striving for a "1940s tavern look," and they are well on their way to succeeding. A brand new, up-to-the-minute kitchen will be in operation next week. The old kitchen will be converted into a dining area. Picone said, "The cooks had the best view of the harbor."

Picone, who has more than 18 years in the restaurant business, has hired a professional management team. We spoke with Doreen Giribaldo, who previously worked for a number of upscale country clubs. She said, "Our intention is that nobody escape without good service, no matter what." She mentioned that they have installed a radio communication system so that the staff can be in touch with each other. The wait staff was attentive, efficient and knowledgeable.

Louie's is open seven days for lunch and dinner. Sunday through Thursday lunch is 11:30 to 3:30 and dinner is 3:30 to 10. Friday and Saturday, they are open until 11. Regular entrees range from about $11 to $23, with sandwiches and wraps available at lunch for $11 to $17. On Monday and Tuesday, they offer a clambake for $28 for two one-pound lobsters and $32 for two two-pound lobsters. Lobster dinner is priced according to size and market.

There is much that is familiar at Louie's, including the pictures of Old Port Washington, and much that is new. Overall, they offer a delightful dining experience, updating and upgrading a centuries-old tradition.


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