Stillwater Fish House and Oyster Bar shells out high-quality seafaring cuisine to a receptive Flathead Valley

Story by TRISTAN SCOTT, Photography by LIDO VIZZUTTI
Jonathan Swift famously said, “He was a bold man who first ate an oyster.” It may have taken a bolder man to open a restaurant featuring a suite of fresh, seafaring cuisine, including an oyster bar, in a landlubbing state like Montana.

Yet Stillwater Fish House owner Jesse Felder has discovered the secret to dishing out top-quality seafood in the Flathead Valley, and while most everything on the menu comes from under the sea, the Stillwater Fish House hasn’t sunk under the radar.

On the contrary, the restaurant, located in the former Shaker’s building on U.S. Highway 93 across from Skyles Lake, has drawn a loyal and steady following since opening its doors in July 2012, and the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce quickly recognized the Fish House with its silver platter “People’s Choice Award” from the 25th Annual Taste of Whitefish.

The distinguished honor — a rare accolade for a new restaurant — reinforced the owner’s confidence that his boldness was an investment that will pay off in strong returns.

The menu features signature entrees like Miso Butterfish marinated in a miso and sake reduction, then sautéed and served over sticky rice and topped with Edamame salad; and the Whole Fish, a one-pound trout scored and rubbed with curry then lightly battered and fried.

An extensive wine list will offer a complement to any meal, while sakes and craft beers are also available.

The lobster is flown in from Maine and the oyster bar is stocked from the Puget Sound, with a variety of lively choices, including Kumamotos, which oyster czar Marco Aguiar calls “the champagne of oysters.” The oyster bar, or “raw bar,” features four varieties of fresh oysters daily, depending on what’s in season, and the recently offered Kushi and Chincoteague oysters.

In creating the oyster bar, Aguiar invented a popular concoction unique to the Fish House, called the “shoyster” — a delicious oyster-sake shooter.

“They’re all my own creations,” he said of the shoyster menu. “It’s a gastronomic deconstruction of textures put together in a different form, so you can focus on the oyster itself, a little bit of sake, imbibe and enjoy. I brought it on board and it’s been embraced very generously by the community. I’m kind of flattered. It’s a great way to educate patrons about oysters and how their taste receptors respond to the umami, the savory of the protein and also the sweet and salty.”

Aguiar even wrote an oyster bar manual to train Fish House waitstaff on the finer points of oysters, including how to detect freshness. The book also contains a section on oyster vernacular so oyster-savvy servers can educate Fish House customers about the bivalve mollusks.

Everything at the Fish House is ferried to Montana from Spokane most weekdays, so much of the fare slept in the ocean the previous night. Nothing is frozen, except the cod used for fish and chips.

Stillwater Fish House and Oyster Bar
2635 Highway 93 West, Whitefish
Open 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. daily