I love Maine. It’s as simple as that. Its pristine waters, its rocky coastline, its charming way of life. The world moves at half the pace and with twice the sincerity. B and I trekked as far north as Acadia National Park and as far seaward as Chebeague Island. We found our dream wedding venue, put a dent in the lobster population, and of course, enjoyed some of the state’s best oysters.
In my opinion, Maine is one of the last “frontiers” of the East. With just a population of 1.3 million (2010), it is set among the top 10 least populated states in the US. Maine’s unspoiled nature is just as fertile as it is beautiful. They are reputed with having some of the best tasting oysters on the east coast. I can personally vouch for that, as you’ll read about later. It’s no secret either. A couple thousand years ago, Native Americans were all about the wild oysters from Damariscotta River — and they left their tab behind for all to see. Today, most of Maine’s most prominent oyster farms are stationed along the Damariscotta, including Glidden Point, Pemaquid, and Cape Blue. If you’re really lucky, you can also find yourself a wild Belon!
On this trip, we were able to get our hands on some fantastic local favorites. Before hopping on the ferry to Chebeague Island, I headed over to buy oysters from the Harbor Fish Market, a reputable seafood market that attracts both locals and visitors. The selection and knowledge of the fishmongers was indeed extensive. I picked up four different varieties — three from Maine, one from Massachusetts.
John’s River from South Bristol, Maine
Flavor: 9 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 6 | Texture: Plump, slightly chewy, meaty
This deliciously complex oysters was by far everyone’s favorite. It had a great balance of brininess, sweetness, and earthiness.
Winterpoint from Mill Cove, Maine
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 8 | Sweetness: 4 | Texture: Soft, very meaty
The largest of the bunch, but also the most straightforward in taste. Winterpoints were difficult to shuck (due to size) — I actually had to use force!
Damariscotta from Maine
Flavor: 5 | Salinity: 5 | Sweetness: 3 | Texture: Slightly meaty, a bit thin
Simple sea flavor with a little bit of earthiness, relatively clean finish.
Duxbury from DuxburyBay, Massachusetts
Flavor: 7 | Salinity: 8 | Sweetness: 5 | Texture: Thin, soft, tender
These oysters had a rather pungent undertone, relatively briny, with a lingering salty finish.
The four dozen oysters disappeared quickly amongst the eight of us. Some opted to drizzle a little lemon juice on theirs, but I encouraged everyone to try at least one naked. That’s really the only true way to fully appreciate the fresh and vibrant taste of Maine. The more fresh the oyster, the less garnish you need.
Of course, that’s not all that we ate during the weekend. This season, there was a glut of lobster. While having excess is certainly better than the opposite, the reality of this surplus doesn’t help everyone. While we giddily scarfed down lobster wherever we went, we learned that lobstermen up and down the Maine coast were challenged to sell their excess product at a fair price. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place. To think of it, I didn’t really see any dramatic price cuts in NYC for lobster either, with exception to the $6.99/lb sale at Citarella’s. (We’ve seen it as high as $16.99/lb there!)
On a more positive note, I experienced my first authentic lobster bake on the island. Family friends of our friend’s family hosted the most quintessential afternoon lobster bake and party that I’ve ever been to. Their charming plot of island comes with access to the water, a lush lawn, a breathtaking view of the southwest, and and insanely gorgeous summer house. Mental note: that’s what I want in 20 years.
This was my first Maine island vacation, but there will be many more to come! We also were able to lock down our wedding venue earlier in the trip, which I will leave as a relative secret until our website is up.
Check out my Flickr gallery for the full vacation set.
Uber kudos to Chef Polo Dobkin at Dressler for putting together a delightful menu for the New York Oyster Lovers meetup. It was the first time that I’ve ever experienced all five species of oysters sold in the US on the same plate!
I just glanced at my NYOL Meetup count and apparently this is my 17th (!!!) event. Who knows how many other oyster tastings I’ve been to outside of the group. So it should provide you with some context as to how rare this 5-species sampler is by learning that this is the FIRST time that I’ve ever come across this offering. The fab five (see logo) all in one place? Too good to be true. Credit and thanks must be given to both Chef Polo Dobkin and the W&T Seafood crew for hooking him up with the goods. So thanks guys!
I’m going to keep my comments brief as I am under the weather today. Below is a quick recap of the courses and oysters that were showcased.
First course was a simple and tasty Shooter featuring a plump Cape May Salt Oyster from the Cape Shore of Delaware Bay, NJ and a small glass of tomato water, bloody mary, and mezcal. The combination was potent and refreshing. The Cape May Salt was simultaneously succulent and firm. Also you can’t go wrong with starting with a little booze. Smart move for a Meetup.
Second course was a platter of five flawlessly shucked raw oysters that came chilled on a bed of crushed ice. Years ago I learned about these five species from Rowan Jacobsen’s book A Geography of Oysters. It took thousands of oysters later to finally meet them all at once, together, face to face. The group decided to start with the Kumamoto, a West Coast fan favorite, and work our way to the East. The reason for this technique is that the brininess of the East Coast oysters tend to linger on the palette, so it’s best to start with lighter ones first. Basically the same protocol as any other tasting, whether it’s cheese, wine, sake, etc.
Kumamoto (Crassostrea sikamea) from Chapman’s Cove and Totten Inlet, WA
Some oyster connoisseurs snub the Kumamoto because it’s just “too easy to love.” It’s true, but that doesn’t stop me from showering it with affection. Famous for its deep cup of plush, pillowy, fruity meat, this Kumo fit the bill perfectly. After a couple of chews, the distinct melony sweetness began to emerge fully on my tongue. Great way to start!
Olympia (Ostrea lurida) from Totten Inlet, Southern Puget Sound, WA
Petite and darker colored, this oyster used to cover the entire west coast of North America. Overharvesting, disease, and industrialization practically wiped them out completely. Thanks to dedicated conservation efforts and sustainable farming, this little guy is coming back in force! They are about the size of a quarter but has the punchy flavor of a new penny. Coppery, earthy, bold. Non-apologetic.
Shigoku (Crassostrea gigas) from Washington Coast, Willipa Bay, WA
The name sounds Japanese and that is exactly where this species originated from. It was imported from Japan when the Olympias started to dwindle. Now the gigas is synonymous with the West Coast oyster (not to mention that its cultivated around the world). The Shigoku was the quintessential West Coast oyster: ultra creamy, clean, slightly minerally, and grassy/vegetal.
Wild Goose (Crassostrea virginica) from West Passage, Narragansett Bay, RI
Virginica oysters are native to the North American East Coast and take on a much different flavor profile than its West Coast counterparts. The oysters from Rhode Island are consistently at the top of my list of being the most sweet, plump, and complex of all Virginicas. The Wild Goose did not disappoint. Its liquor was bright and briny and the meat was chewy, earthy, and mildly sweet.
Belon (Ostrea edulis) from Damariscotta River, Edgecomb, ME
The belon is native to Europe, but has been successfully grown on the East Coast. I’ve have Belons from Maine before, but also from Ireland and France. They are also referred to as “plate” or “flat” oysters in Europe due to their shape. The shells are almost round and scallop-like. The taste is unlike any other oyster there is. Powerful, bold, briny, and extremely metallic. The abrasive zinc-flavor hits your salivary gland like a thundershower and STAYS. It can be overpowering and polarizing for some. I happen to crave it. Partially because of the flavor and also because of the firm texture.
The third course was a dainty open-faced crispy po’boy using Sewansecott Oysters from Hog Island Bay, Willis Wharf, VA. I love raw Sewansecott oysters, but the fried version ain’t bad either! I wish that there would’ve been a little less herb dressing though. It slightly overpowered the delicate arugula.
The fourth course was a dashi poached Montauk Pearl Oyster from Montauk, Long Island, NY with braised pork belly, enoki mushrooms, simmered in a broth of dashi, daikon, ponzu, and chives. The broth was amazing. I wish I could have it every morning for breakfast or every evening as a night cap… or both!
Lastly, the dessert was a lemon-orange blossom sorbet accompanied by an almond biscotti. Refreshing, mildly tart, and pleasantly sweet. A wonderful way to bring this wonderful tasting to a close.
I’m so glad that I decided to trek to Williamsburg for this meal despite being sick. I experienced one of the best raw oyster tastings that I have ever encountered and met some very interesting people as well. For those who are in New York and lust over these meals, stop watching and start joining in!
In other news, I am leaving for a week-long relaxation fest in St. Lucia this Sunday with B. Looking forward to some sun, snorkel, scuba, kayaking, sailing, and eating! I wonder if they’ll have oysters on the island… somewhere. If there are, I will be sure to find them out and report back.
Hello! My name is Julie and I am an oysterholic. The “official” term for an oyster lover is ostreaphile, but it doesn’t quite capture “addictive” aspect of the situation. The past week (and a half) was particularly bad (and by bad, I mean SO good) and I’ve made up my mind to showcase it all in one glorious swoop. Here’s to getting shuck’d.
Two Tuesdays Ago: I downed at least two dozen Kumamoto oysters at The Mussel Pot with my friend Siwat.
It was the dollar special of the night, which made it impossible to eat in moderation. I really liked how they were served with lime wedges instead of lemon.
It is impossible to hate the Kumamoto. These Japanese-native oysters are consistently creamy, sweet, and infused with melon-cucumber flavors. They are the perfect size for beginners, but are interesting enough to keep veterans guessing. US Kumamotos are grown in either California (Humboldt Bay) or Washington (South Puget Sound). I prefer them from California’s Humboldt Bay because they tend to be sweeter and more earthy.
Last Tuesday: Met up with some social media gal pals for dinner at the new Ed’s Lobster Bar Annex on Clinton Street.
They had their Tuesday $2 oyster special across a selection of five, so we ordered three of each. Beausoleils from New Brunswick, Cape Blues from Maine, Malpeques from PEI, Rappahannocks from Virginia, and Stingrays from Virginia. Chef Edward McFarland is an East Coast kind of guy, so it was only fitting that this was an all East Coast oysters kind of joint. Most, if not all of the chefs that I’ve met in NYC prefer East Coast oysters to their West Coast rivals. I’m curious to see if the pattern is flip-flopped on the other side.
My favorite of the bunch was the Rappahannock, which was a pleasant surprise. Just a month ago, I had ultra mild Rapps at The Mermaid Oyster Bar. This time, they were much saltier, juicier, and sweeter. It’s amazing how much the environment plays into the taste of the oysters. On the flip side, I’m also a huge fan of Maine oysters’ briny and firm meat. Cape Blues definitely delivered on the brininess, but they weren’t as firm as, say, a Pemaquid or a Glidden Point.
Chewiness is next to deliciousness in my book. It doesn’t just apply to oysters either–give me chewy calamari, chewy beef tendon, chewy granola bars and I’m all set. Plus, chewing down on oysters also plays a vital role in releasing its flavors. As you crunch down on the glycogen, the meat becomes progressively sweeter. I guarantee you that a good percentage of oyster “haters” dislike these amazing mollusks because they were too chicken shit to really chew down on the meat. Swallowing them whole is not advisable for a good time.
In addition to the oysters at Ed’s, we also tried a slew of savory snacks including the Seafood Salad, Lobster Ravioli (amazing), Lobster Meatballs, and mini Lobster Rolls. You can read about the rest of our meal on The Oyster Blog. More photos from the meal can be found on Flickr.
Last Wednesday: Met up with my college friend Ranie at DBGB Kitchen + Bar before dinner at The Modern for some oysters and beer.
Well, I didn’t drink. I just enjoyed some oysters at the bar and got crap from one of the bartenders (all in jest, of course). We ordered a round of Wild Goose oysters from Rhode Island, Island Creeks from Massachusetts, and (Totten) Virginicas from Washington. Okay, here’s a question for the grammar experts: When referring to multiple Wild Goose oysters, should one refer to them as Wild Gooses or Wild Geese? Regardless, they were quite tasty. They had a punchy mollusk musk to them that could have done very well against a hoppy beer.
The Island Creeks weren’t at their best, unfortunately. They weren’t as meaty, complex, or flavorful as they usually are. Meanwhile, the Totten Virginicas were large and in charge. It is an East Coast oyster that has been transplanted into West Coast waters. The result? Briny, sweet, supple, metallic, creamy, and divine. The best of both worlds–a truly cosmopolitan oyster. Oyster expert and author Rowan Jacobsen rated them a solid 10 a few years ago during an oyster tasting competition.
Ranie and I spent a good 10 minutes arguing the virtues and vices of condiments (particularly when added on oysters). It was futile to persuade her that you don’t need to add lemon, cocktail sauce, AND mignonette to the oyster. If they were a dozen Blue Point dollar specials, I wouldn’t care as much. But it made me terribly sad to see her plop all of this on to the Totten Virginicas. (Just giving you a hard time, bottlecap!)
Last Thursday: Dollar oysters with a friend (and former colleague) who’s departing NYC for peachy Georgia at The Mermaid Oyster Bar.
I love doing impromptu oyster tastings with friends who are interested in the subject, but know very little about it. It gives me great happiness to explain the why’s, what’s, how’s, and who’s of the oyster kingdom. It’s even more of an elation when I get to discover something great right alongside them. The dollar specials at The Mermaid Oyster Bar have been decent in the past, but nothing like this time. The East Coast variety was the Sewansecott from Virginia and the West Coast was Peale Passage fro Washington.
Dear Sewansecotts: where have you been all my life? (The gang at Go Shuck an Oyster were enlightened over a year ago.) Although this is just my first encounter, I’m eager to claim them as a new favorite. I was going to tack on, “from Virginia,” but these might just rival the more popular gems of the Northeast. Guess I’ll have to do a side-by-side comparison to be sure… They are ultra flavorful, a perfect balance of sweet and salty, and deliciously chewy. Just writing about this makes me crave for more.
Peale Passage oysters from the Puget Sound in Washington also had a mighty presence on the platter. They were exceptionally creamy, with metallic soybean flavor. I keep imagining edamame that play in a heavy metal band.
Last Friday: Flew to Chicago for Labor Day weekend to hang out with friends, listen to great music, eat and drink. After a couple amazing craft beers at Clark Street Ale House, Bryan and I headed over to GT Fish & Oyster for a late dinner.
On the raw bar menu, they had Clevedon Coasts from New Zealand. That stopped me dead in my tracks. I haven’t had those since I was in Hong Kong last winter! I HAD to order them. We also did a handful of Sunset Beaches from Hood Canal, Washington and Katama Bays from Martha’s Vineyard.
First of all, it’s damn tough to find oysters outside of North America in North America due to federal trade regulations. So I was really excited to find New Zealand’s Clevedon Coasts on the menu. My two cents: oysters from Tasmania and New Zealand are AWESOME. They are large, creamy, and full of intricate flavors. It’s definitely something in the water. In fact, all of the oysters that we tried at GT were pretty amazing. Sunset Beaches were very creamy, high in zinc, and seaweed notes. The Katama Bays were clean, crisp, briny and buttery. There was a great earthy, vegetal aftertaste that signaled its MV heritage (I love Martha Vineyard oysters).
The food at GT was remarkable and noteworthy. We tried the Foie Gras and Shrimp Terrine, Grilled Octopus and Watermelon, Oyster Po’Boy Sliders with Kimchi slaw, and a Cheesecake Panna Cotta. Unfortunately, it was way too dark to take photos–I wish I had though. The food was plated beautifully. The flavor combinations were also quite creative. Mostly familiar, yet each had its own unique twist. I’d definitely return again for more.
One last note: GT has a fantastic mignonette. It involves ponzu juice, which gives it a refreshing, citrusy kick. Of course, I didn’t put it on the oysters that I tried… but Bryan did (and enjoyed them). Gotta save that one in my own recipe book for later. It should go well with West Coast oysters.
Labor Day Monday: After a day-long jaunt around Millennium Park and The Art Institute of Chicago, I reinvigorated myself with some oysters with caviar and wasabi gelee at The Gage.
It was a beautiful and sunny Labor Day. We took many photos at DAAA BEEEAN and spent hours wandering the corridors of The Art Instititue. Around 4PM my hunger started to kick in, so I took Foursquare up on its suggestion to check out The Gage. There was a raw oyster appetizer on the menu consisted of half a dozen oysters topped with green caviar and wasabi gelee for $15.
Pretty good deal for the price. The oysters featured included the Naked Cowboy from Long Island Sound, Kumamotos from Washington, and Eagle Rocks from Totten Inlet, Washington. Kumo aside, they were all pretty petite oysters.
I was a little disappointed when the oysters came out with the toppings already in place. It was hard to distinguish what the oyster’s true flavor (and quality) were. Nonetheless, the caviar and gelee complimented the oysters quite nicely. Beyond that, it was also totally BAFFLING why this dish came out with a pot of cocktail sauce. My only question is: Why??? Would’ve made a little more sense if it were mignonette sauce or lemon wedges.
Food at The Gage was hearty–well suited for sharing. Homemade sausages, poached shrimp, and Scotch eggs… A long walk was definitely appropriate before or after the meal.
Number of Oysters Consumed: Five dozen-ish (~60)
Number of Oyster Varieties Consumed: 16
Number of New Oyster Varieties Discovered: 6
Favorite Discovery: Sewansecott
Favorite Re-Discovery: Clevedon Coast
Favorite East Coasts: Sewansecott, Katama Bay
Favorite West Coasts: Peale Passage, Totten Virginica
Brand New Taste Profiles
Cape Blue from Hog Island, Maine * * *
Enjoyed at Ed’s Lobster Bar Annex on 8.30.11
Flavor: 6 | Salinity: 8 | Sweetness: 3 | Umami: 2 | Texture: Slightly chewy, soft
Straightforward brininess, but lacks in complexity and the “chewy” factor that I so thoroughly enjoy in Maine oysters
Stingray from Mobjack Bay, Virginia * *
Enjoyed at Ed’s Lobster Bar Annex on 8.30.11
Flavor: 4 | Salinity: 2 | Sweetness: 2 | Umami: 3 | Texture: Mildly creamy, slightly plump
Soy sauce flavors, very low salinity, slightly brackish/bitter water flavors
Wild Goose from Rhode Island * * *
Enjoyed at DBGB Kitchen + Bar on 8.31.11
Flavor: 5 | Salinity: 2 | Sweetness: 3 | Umami: 3 | Texture: Medium-firmness, slightly plump
The liquor was slightly saltier than the meat, which had a deliciously punchy mollusk-y taste to it (imagine eating escargot)
Sewansecott from Great Machipongo River, Virginia * * * * *
Enjoyed at The Mermaid Oyster Bar on 9.1.11
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 5 | Umami: 7 | Texture: Chewy, long, plump
Extremely flavorful, balanced sweet/saltiness, crisp, and has a deliciously silky texture
Sunset Beach from Hood Canal, Washington * * *
Enjoyed at GT Fish & Oyster on 9.5.11
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 4 | Umami: 7 | Texture: Ultra creamy
Potent in zinc (taste lingers in the back of your mouth) that is almost overpowering and light sea spray and seaweed notes
Peale Passage from Puget Sound, Washington * * * *
Enjoyed at The Mermaid Oyster Bar on 9.1.11
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 4 | Umami: 7 | Texture: Ultra creamy
Metallic, soybean flavors, a burst of iron/zinc notes at the nose
Happy National Oyster Day! This is my second Oyster Day celebration and I’ve decided to go a bit bigger than last year. Seeing that the holiday is on a Friday, I decided to split my oyster fest into two segments: casual slurping at lunch and a more intense tasting for dinner. Below is a recap of how I celebrated and tips on how to make the most of your celebration.
For lunch, I met up with my buddy Chavelli at Fish, a low-key, neighborhood-y West Village seafood restaurant on Bleecker Street. They have one of the best oyster deals in town: 6 Blue Points plus a glass of wine (red/white) or PBR for $8! If you’re not looking for anything fancy, this deal really hits the spot. Even on their regular menu, the oyster prices are extremely reasonable. While they don’t have a huge selection (3-4 kinds daily), they’re priced at around $2 per piece. That’s what some restaurants charge during happy hour!
After work, my colleague Niyati and I headed down to Aquagrill for a more intense oyster experience. What I love about Aquagrill is that they really deliver on variety and shucking quality. Each piece is always cleanly opened and well presented. There’s no grit that gets in the way of the glorious slurping experience. We were seated at the corner spot at the bar by an open window. @AquagrillNYC happened to be in the house and dropped over to say hello. It was nice to put a face to the Twitter handle!
Niyati pretty much let me do the ordering. I was in the mood to try some new varieties, so we ended up selecting 8 kinds.
When it comes to tasting new oysters, I always order two to make sure that the taste is consistent. I also never use condiments. It’s too difficult to get a true sense of the oyster’s natural flavors when you add lemon or cocktail sauce on top.
Here are the oysters that were ordered and my tasting notes. I’m trying to “standardize” my ratings so that the oysters can be compared to each other. The scale that I’m using is a 10-point one, with 1 being the least intense (e.g., not salty whatsoever) and 10 being the most intense (e.g., extremely flavorful).
Blackberry Point from Northwest Prince Edward Island
Flavor: 6 | Salinity: 8 | Sweetness: 2 | Texture: Saggy, airy
Straightforward, sharp saltiness, thin meat, but clean finish
Conway Cup from Cascumpeque Bay, Prince Edward Island
Flavor: 4 | Salinity: 5 | Sweetness: 4 | Texture: Juicy, soft
Reminds me of raisins — salty and sweet, straightforward and clean finish
Wiley Point from Damariscotta River, Maine
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 5 | Texture: Firm, chewy
Lingering sweetness through the body; crisp, vegetal finish
First Light from Mashpee, Massachusetts
Flavor: 5 | Salinity: 6 | Sweetness: 5 | Texture: Chewy, crisp
Slightly nutty, clean aftertaste; an oyster that is easy to eat a lot of
East Beach Blonde from Charlestown Pond, Rhode Island
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 5 | Texture: Slightly thin, chewy
Earthy and savory tone; cured prosciutto or ham flavors
Komo Guay from Baynes Sound, British Columbia
Flavor: 7 | Salinity: 9 | Sweetness: 3 | Texture: Semi creamy, chewy
Lemon notes, little liquor; hard to get past the saltiness
Deer Creek from South Hood Canal, Washington
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 3 | Sweetness: 2 | Texture: Ultra creamy
Deep cupped; earthy, minerality in the finish; buttery
Gold Creek from Hood Canal, Washington
Flavor: 4 | Salinity: 2 | Sweetness: 3 | Texture: Soft, ultra creamy
Buttery and crisp; mineral aftertaste that lingers for a long time on back of the tongue
I think from this bunch, I enjoyed the Wiley Point, First Light, and Gold Creeks the most.
So now you’re probably in the mood for some bivalves now right? If you’re a beginner to these mollusks and are wondering how to make the most out of your experience, there are some simple tips:
- Bring a buddy: it’s a lot more fun evaluating oysters with a friend or two. Sometimes you’ll taste very different things!
- Watch them shuck: oysters look exotic enough, but if you are able to watch the shuckers do their magic at the bar, that’s when it becomes really mesmerizing.
- Skip the sauce: don’t be shy about trying the oyster by itself. At restaurants, oysters will always arrive with an entourage of condiments, such as lemon, cocktail sauce, mignonette, or hot sauce. The best way to taste the flavors is by trying it naked (or with nothing on top).
- Look closely: examine the shell and the flesh! You’ll soon realize that not all varieties look the same. You can actually tell quite a lot about the oyster based on its appearance.
- Chew: don’t just swallow the damn thing! Chew the meat to extract the sweetness and unlock hidden flavor complexities.
- Order 3-6 varieties: make sure to sample at least one from each coast; ordering more than 6 varieties at a time might make it confusing to keep track (we ordered 4 types first, followed by another 4).
What are some rituals or rules that you follow while enjoying oysters?
Technically, it’s not the best oyster-eating season anymore. But does the absence of an “R” in the month and eagerly spawning product stop me? Heck no! Since last fall, I’ve been charting an exciting edible journey across the world of oysters. A couple weekends ago, I took my obsession to the next level by attending a series of oyster-devoted events. It started innocently enough with a second New York Oyster Lovers meet up at Essex Restaurant. Then, a small cluster of us trekked out to the Great South Bay to tour the Blue Island Shellfish Farms with owner Chris Quartuccio. Finally, I attended the NYC Food Film Festival’s Great Oyster Shuck ‘N Suck party and met my hero, Liza of food.curated. By now, and thanks in part to Liza, most of you are familiar with my oyster log, but wait until you hear what I’m about to do next! More pics, stories and an exciting announcement on the next page!
The second-ever NY Oyster Lovers meet up at Essex Restaurant in the LES turned out to be a great success. Chef Jason Morey is actually part of the meet up group, so he largely helped facilitate this event. The tasting featured three oysters from each coast and also four unique cooked oyster preparations (see image below). A couple of the oysters on the menu were familiar favorites (Kusshi and Beavertail), but the rest were brand new. We also had a wine pairing of a Saugivnon Blanc from the Loire Valley (Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2008). I was particularly eager to try the hard-to-get Olympia oysters that are native to Washington State.
The first oyster that I tried was the delicate Fancy Sweet Caraquet from New Brunswick. The size was petite and almost looked a bit bashful or shy. The thin body broke instantly upon chewing and released a slightly salty, yet surprisingly metallic briny flavor.
Next up was one of my favorites: the Kusshi from British Columbia. Just look at it! It’s so cute and plump, the beautiful eggshell body is simply decorated with a sweep of black eyeliner. The photo doesn’t show you its depth, but this oyster is known to be ultra deep-cupped, due to how it’s grown (tumbled silly). The pillowy meat tasted of crisp cucumber and copper. There was a slightly lemon aftertaste, which I didn’t pick up from my previous encounter. But then again, anything in the environment (time, water salinity, rainfall, food source, etc.) will affect the flavor.
Another oyster that’s new to me was the Hawk’s Point from Willapa Bay. As you can tell from the photo, this oyster is of a substantial size. The meat sprawls across the entire length of the shell and tastes surprisingly fresh. The texture of the white meat at the center is the similar to that of jello or custard.
Waweknauk from the Damariscotta River Estuary also has a large shell, perhaps the biggest of the bunch, but the meat is not even half the size. It’s disheveled layers of meat had a pointed saltiness to it which then was complimented by a slightly sweet, lemon aftertaste. It also tasted a bit smoky, like cured ham. Fortunately, the haphazard shucking didn’t impact the taste much.
Beavertail from Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island really does sort of resemble a beaver’s tail! This large (4 inch) and deeply cupped oyster has a bold, briny, buttery flavor.
Saving the most anticipated for last, I tried the petite Olympia from the Puget Sound, Washington. Unlike other east coast and west coast oysters, this one was of its own species: Ostreola conchaphila. The flesh, no bigger than an inch, was packed with a complex flavor profile that was difficult to describe. It was pleasantly briny and tasted almost vegetable-like. However, the moment was so fleeting, that I found myself feeling cheated—caught in a bait and switch situation. Therefore, my current impression of these little Oly’s is flat. I need to make it a point to try them again soon.
After the raw tasting, another plate of oysters appeared in front of me. This time, there were four prepared oysters, still in their shells, placed gently on a bed of tangled seaweed. Three of them were roasted and one was pan fried. The chef, a fellow oyster lover, showcased a Blue Point oyster from CT in distinctively different styles, echoing East and West, Traditional and Modern takes.
The first one that I tried was my favorite: a classic New York style oyster that was grilled plainly in its shell, all naked and smooth. I absolutely loved it. The concentrated taste of the sea was baked into every fiber, which was released slowly onto my tongue upon rigorous chewing.
I enjoyed the other preparations as well, but not as much as the true-blue NY Classic. The Asian style featured a bed of fresh grated wasabi and panko, ponzu reduction with minced ginger and lemongrass. Pan-Asia party in my mouth! While “asian” flavors are lovely, there was just too much going on and I was unable to focus on any part of the oyster.
Next, came an oyster done up French style with a tomato concasse and Hollandaise (rich, luxurious, expected), followed by a pan-fried oyster served with a Creole Buerre Blanc and Andouille sausage. Now THAT was delicious. The Andouille made the flavors of the oyster really pop, like a helpful, yet not overpowering wing man.
While I completely appreciate Chef Morey’s effort to showcase the oyster as a truly versatile protein, I admit that I still preferred them in their natural state.