Oyster Omakase, my experimental oyster tasting pop up in New York City, was born out of a spontaneous impulse. Having traveled around the world in search of oysters and amazing half shell experiences, it dawned on me that I could be creating them as well. Although I’ve hosted a few private events here and there, I never really took a chance to put myself out there and see what would happen. Well, this is what happened.
Oyster Omakase (pronounced “Oh-ma-ka-say”) was a series of short, illuminating oyster tasting and pairing events that I hosted last month. It was intended to be completely different than any other oyster event that I had ever been to. Inspired by wine tastings and high end sushi omakases, I wanted to create an intimate setting where guests would leave feeling inspired and enlightened. It was about raising the bar for oyster appreciation and connoisseurship.
- A perfect little bar area at the front of Chal Chilli on 28th and Lexington.
- Decorated shelves with oyster knick-knacks and my favorite books.
- Chalkboard menu hand-written by my talented friend Chavelli of I Draw Letters.
- Wooden trays with pebbles to provide a “out of the water” vibe.
- A photo-centric oyster Keynote projected from my iPad.
- Goldfish crackers, because they’re tasty and fun.
- 30 minute tasting sessions, with just four seats per session.
- 4 sessions per night, for three nights a week, for two weeks.
- Each taster was presented with three curated oyster varieties (six oysters in total).
- Each taster was poured two beverage pairings and given a take home gift.
- I shucked all of the oysters at the bar, while giving a guided tasting of the oysters.
Priced it at $36 per person and seats were booked in pairs ($72 per two seats).
Essentially, this was the start of becoming an oyster sommelier.
Well, there’s not really a word for what I do… yet. Oyster sommelier is probably the closest that I’ve gotten, but it’s not just about curating a list of oysters. There is an overarching aquaculture advocacy and education aspect to it as well. Anyway, the working title at the moment has been the easiest for people to wrap their heads around. So far, the reactions have been good. The only downside is that it feels a little limiting.
I curated an all-star cast of six oyster varieties representing six different producers from six different states along the Atlantic. I ran two mini-experiments across the two weeks: Week 1 featured farms that I’ve personally visited before, so I was able to speak first hand about how they do things. Week 2 featured two new awesome oysters that have barely made their debuts. I’m fairly certain that my Oyster Omakase patrons were the first to have tasted them in New York.
King Caesar Oysters from Duxbury, MA
A phenomenal oyster cull managed by Paul Hagan from Duxbury Bay Shellfish (and now the lead buyer at Legal Seafoods — congrats!) Loved them from day one.
Fishers Island Oysters from Block Island Sound, NY
Over the last several months, I’ve grown quite fond of Fishers Island Oysters and all that they (and the Malinowskis) embody. They have a great story and partnership with Billion Oyster Project and the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School.
Pleasure House Oysters from Lynnhaven, VA
One of the most remarkable boutique oysters out of the Virginia and you probably won’t find them on any New York oyster menus. Production/supply is limited and you kind of have to be in the know. 😉
Mount Desert Island Oysters from Bar Harbor, ME
This oyster is a brand new to the market and is currently sold in Boston, but not yet seen in New York. I had the opportunity to taste test them awhile ago and knew that they had to debut at Oyster Omakase!
Watch Hill Oysters from Westerly, RI
A robust, well-known Rhody oyster that I’ve been acquainted with on many occasions throughout my oyster tasting career.
Murder Point Oysters from Sandy Bay, AL
Perhaps the most surprising and stigma-busting oyster on this list. I had the opportunity to meet the growers at the Boston Seafood Expo and can’t wait to check out the farm later this summer.
Tozai “Well of Wisdom” Ginjo from Osaka Prefecture, Japan
One of my favorite beverages to pair with oysters is sake! It might seem like a surprising combination, but the two together can boost umami like no other. “Well of Wisdom” Ginjo is a fairly subtle, but well-balanced and slightly dry sake. When paired with the briny Atlantic oysters, it made everything taste more vibrant! This sake was a match made in heaven with the northern oysters such as the Mount Desert Island Oysters and the King Caesar Oysters. I want to thank my lovely friend Monica Samuels from Vine Connections for providing her invaluable expertise and sensational product.
“The Oyster” Sauvignon Blanc from Central Coast, CA
Sauvignon Blanc is a contemporary white wine pairing for oysters, and I opted to use the most progressive of them all. We generally think of pairings in terms of taste, but what if you combined good taste with a great cause? Proud Pour does just that and helps creates wine that pair with solutions to local environmental problems. A percentage of the sales from “The Oyster,” goes back to support local oyster reef restoration programs such as the Billion Oyster Project. This wonderfully drinkable wine paired best with meatier and buttery oysters like Pleasure House and Murder Point. I want to thank Berlin Kelly from Vine Connections for her generous support and remarkable wine!
Photo Credit: Rose Ahn (Right)
What I Have Learned
It took a couple days to get the rhythm down, but Oyster Omakase eventually found its flow. Every day was different. Some tasters enjoyed grilling me about oysters (which I eagerly addressed, but it resulted in a completely derailed schedule), while others were happy to just listen. While it seemed like everyone walked away more enlightened about oysters, I learned a ton through the experience as well. Here are a few of my own takeaways:
- There is no one “best” oyster. Favorites were all over the place, and I was personally surprised by that. The stories helped a lot in conveying an unsaid quality about each of them.
- There are still a lot of misconceptions out there about oysters. Questions about oyster myths and wives tales came up in every group, without fail. From the R rule to pearls, pea crabs to aquaculture, the industry still has a big ways to go to set the record straight.
- 30 minutes isn’t enough. To get through three oyster varieties, with time to spare for Q&A, I need 45 minutes. 30 feels way too rushed and I can’t go “off script” as much as I’d like.
This was so much fun that I have to do it again! Oyster Omakase will most likely reappear sometime, somewhere in the near future. I have been talking with several interested parties about where to host the next one. I don’t know if this will ever become a permanent “thing,” but in the meantime, it’s a great way to do what I love, help growers get the word out about their oysters, and help other oyster lovers learn more. There’s no downside to that. 🙂
For those who of you want to stay in the know about Oyster Omakase and other special events, sign up for my newsletter! The sign up form is in the footer.
I’m also curious about what you might also like to see or experience at the next Oyster Omakase… what do you think would be cool? Tell me in the comments section!