Oyster Bar Review, Oyster Trips & ToursMarch 26, 2017

Los Angeles Oyster Crawl

After 5.5 hours of flight time, our pilot came over the intercom with a friendly weather update. 73 degrees, partly cloudy, great visibility. Welcome to Los Angeles! I was totally ready for a week of Southern Californian oyster bliss.

In the fall of 2015, I had the honor of hosting my first-ever West Coast Oyster Omakase at Blue Plate Oysterette and decided to make a work-slash-research-slash-reunion trip out of it. My best friend moved from NYC to Santa Monica earlier that year and we—along with a few other NY-transplanted buddies—were due for some hang out time.

Don’t have time to read it all? Get the oyster highlights: Los Angeles City Guide.

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Descending into LAX on a clear day was pretty cool, but walking through the palm trees in Palisades Park during sunset was even more magical. Anne’s apartment was literally across the street from a swaying outdoor palm court… lucky girl!

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It also happened to be a timely visit. The inaugural Downtown LA Oyster Festival, hosted by The Oyster Gourmet at Grand Central Market, would be happening. Oyster lovers and growers united under one roof to enjoy the fresh harvest. The lines for oysters were a bit long, but it was worth the wait.

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The Oyster Gourmet

For those of you who haven’t heard of The Oyster Gourmet, pay attention. Owner and operator Christophe Happillon is the only Master Ecailler in Los Angeles. Ecailler is an old term for oysters in French (they’re called huîtres today) and is used as the professional label of seafood specialists in charge of preparing seafood plates, skilled in manipulating and shucking oysters and other shellfish.

As a seasoned pro, Christophe understands the importance of presentation and showmanship when it comes to providing a best-in-class oyster experience. This first becomes immediately apparent when you first come upon the freestanding raw bar at Grand Central Market. The unique design is comprised of several interlocking panels that are operated by a hand crank. It is truly a work of art (see above). Secondly, you won’t find a flawed shuck. You just won’t.

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I returned to the scene a day after the DTLA Oyster Festival to enjoy a much more relaxed experience. I sat down with Christophe to try half a dozen West Coast oysters and a chilled glass of Piquepoul, a variety of grape grown primarily in the Rhône Valley and Languedoc regions of France. That was the first time that I had tried this pairing and I’m a fan!

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Blue Plate Oysterette

The next day, I started my Oyster Omakase tasting sessions at Blue Plate Oysterette on West 3rd. There are a few concepts under the Blue Plate Restaurant Group, but this one was perfect for the occasion. It’s an East Coast seafood spot with a beachy and chic West Coast vibe.

My first session included local Foodstagrammers such as Corey of @missfoodieproblems, June of @stirandstyle, and Liz of @sushicravings. I had them (and everyone) taste an eclectic variety featuring Blue Pools from Hood Canal, WA, Olympias and Kumamotos from Washington, and Shooting Point from Eastern Shore of VA.

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Blue Plate had an excellent roster of West Coast varietals—a few that are hardly ever seen out East. This combined with their “I want to eat everything” menu made me want to set up camp in the back corner booth. Can I live here, please??

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Connie & Ted’s

Another establishment that several friends encouraged me to try out was Connie & Ted’s. I met up with my new colleague Mark, who leads biz dev for Australis on the west coast. There was an explosive oyster menu of both East and West Coast varieties. They had basically everything, including Damariscotta Flats from Maine!

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Unfortunately, a few of the oysters were a bit tired and were starting to go funky. The shucking also left a bit to be desired…hence just showing the photo of the shells vs the meats. I wasn’t sure if this was the norm (couldn’t be, right?) or if the staff just wasn’t feeling it that day. Fortunately, the rest of the meal was salvaged by the one of the most delicious Oyster Po’Boy I’ve ever had. I’ll have to give them a second chance.

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L&E Oyster Bar

While Anne resides next to the ocean, our friend Stefi is tucked away in the uber-hip hills of Silverlake. Stefi’s apartment is a stone’s throw away from L&E Oyster Bar, which has a great happy hour special. The upstairs bar offers a mix of East and West Coast oysters on the menu and some of them even carried the grower’s name! We ordered a dozen Pacific oysters and I tried the clam chowder. Yum… if I lived here, I’d probably live here.

EMC Seafood & Raw Bar

EMC Seafood & Raw Bar

Weekend brunch rolled around. Stefi and I peeled off from our other girlfriends (Anne wanted vegan, gluten-free, blah blah blah) to dine at EMC Seafood & Raw Bar in Koreatown. Truth be told, I had heard mixed reviews about this place but I just had a feeling they wouldn’t disappoint. Our risk paid off! I ended up having a life-changing uni experience at EMC without a life-shattering bill. Big hunking lobes of Santa Barbara uni arrived at our table along with a platter of fresh, respectably shucked oysters and mouthwatering lobster fried rice. For great value and a great brunch, go.

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When you’re staying in Santa Monica, it’s probably a good idea to check out Santa Monica Seafood Market & Cafe, the retail branch of the seafood wholesale company. This fish market and restaurant cafe serve up a bounty of delicious fish and shellfish from around the world every day.

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Santa Monica Seafood Market & Cafe

I perched myself at the raw bar counter. My suggestion: if the shucker appears to have the best service area in the house, make sure that you sit squarely in front of them. You’re more likely to get good service, shucked oysters, and an interesting conversation. Although I was engaged in conversation with my companion, I still watched my shucker like a hawk… not sure if he noticed, but the oysters came out alright!

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The Jolly Oyster

At this point in my adventure, I was craving for a different kind of oyster excursion. So I got into my car and drove up to Malibu and ended up in a parking lot of a small shopping center. Great ocean views, but no oyster bar here. But that’s ok. I was rendezvousing with Mark Reynolds the co-founder of The Jolly Oyster, half way between his Ventura location and LA.

Mark had brought a small blue cooler of his goods on ice. Outside a small coffee shop, we began to shuck Kumamotos and his signature product “Jolly Oyster,” which is a hybrid that is mostly the Pacific oyster gene but experiences some of the Kumamoto’s sweetness. They were all delicious! Super fresh and perfectly sweet.

Mark’s story is pretty unique. He’s a Brit who discovered a passion for aquaculture and sustainable food systems while studying in Scotland. He met another guy named Mark [Venus] there who shared the same interest. After doing extensive market research, they decided to set up shop in Baja California / Mexico. Today, The Jolly Oyster operates a shellfish hatchery, a couple oyster farms, an online store, retail market, and the premier “Go shuck yourself” experience in Southern California.

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I have been known to travel in a manner that may seem somewhat irrational to the normal person. Like that time when I went from NYC to Hong Kong (16-hour non-stop flight) to spend just three days there for the Rugby Sevens. Or that time when I pulled an all-nighter to wait in line at 4AM for the bluefin tuna auction at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. Some experiences are worth the distance and time, and my last stop on my Los Angeles Oyster Crawl was no different.

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Ironside Fish & Oyster

Anne and I drove three hours from Santa Monica to San Diego to check out Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar for lunch. The place was starting to fill up for brunch but we managed to grab a high top booth facing the bar. When we passed by the infamous roadsign bulletin board, I had to stop and admire. It is a hallmark of Ironside’s charisma and cheekiness. Alongside the daily oyster selection, there’s usually some kind of a punny play on a popular hip-hop song. There are too many good ones to count. (“Shuck It Like Its Hot” and “You Used to Call Me On My Shellphone” are probably my two front runners.)

The oysters lured me into Ironside, but the food sealed the deal. Two words: Chowder Fries. It’s kind of like poutine, but way better. I’m tempted to try and recreate this at home, but btw: don’t try to eat this whole dish on your own. You’ll fall into an eternal food coma. The steamed mussels with uni butter toast was also insanity.

Seven oyster bars in seven days… not bad! I shall be back for more, LA, I shall be back. 🙂

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Are there any other fabulous oyster places that should be on my radar? Leave a comment below!

Get the highlights: Los Angeles Oyster City Guide.

Oyster Bar ReviewJuly 14, 2015

There’s More Than Just Oysters at St. Roch Market’s Curious Oyster Co

When I visited New Orleans for the first time last year, I was completely blown away by the oystering history and culinary traditions of Louisiana. New Orleanians take oyster love to a whole new level, and amazingly, it’s been only getting better. Enter: Curious Oyster Co, a brilliant new raw bar in St. Roch Market.

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Late last month, I had the opportunity to revisit New Orleans and speak at the Sustainable Seafood Blog Conference (which I’ll write more about later). I decided to arrive a few days early to explore.

The Curious Oyster Company is one of the founding vendors housed in the newly revitalized St. Roch Market in the Bywater District. The 6,800 square-foot food hall reopened in April 2015 with 13 individual vendors representing a diverse spectrum of coastal and local foods. It took a long time to turn this concept into a reality, and Melissa Martin and Effie Michot, the co-founders of Mosquito Supper Club, knew that they wanted to be part St. Roch’s historic comeback. Melissa’s grandfather was an oysterman and opening an oyster bar was something that she’s always wanted to do.

The Revival of St. Roch Market

St. Roch Market was originally built in 1875 as an open-air food market. It underwent several ups and downs before being abandoned after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The building received a $3.7 million gut renovation in 2012 and the master lease was awarded to Bayou Secret, an entrepreneurial group with a hopeful vision for the space and the community it serves. “After several months working with the neighborhoods, we’ve formulated a plan to create an entrepreneurial hub for community development, provide affordable food options, and educational resources for the St. Roch community.” (source: Nola.com)

Upon arriving to Louis Armstrong International Airport, I rented a car* and made a beeline for this exciting new food destination.


First Impressions

As I walked into the market, I was immediately greeted by a vibrant array of crisp, local produce, aromatic cheeses, and meats. I peer upwards and took in the openness of the space — the sky-high ceilings, bright white columns, and exquisite marble countertops imparted a heavenly aura. After meandering past the different stalls showcasing charcuterie, pastries and artisanal sodas, I eventually arrived in front of the intimate six-seat raw bar. Their lovely hand-illustrated logo hung prominently on the back wall. The whimsical “The Curious Oyster Co” lettering was paired with a voluptuous Aphrodite perched atop a scallop shell, who was looking on with a hungry gleam in her eye.

Co-owner Melissa Martin and Mosquito Supper Club-alum Ellis were busy prepping for the lunch crowd. I had commented on their Instagram just hours earlier about visiting, but I don’t think either of them had any idea that I would literally pop up on a random Wednesday afternoon. Surprise! Nor were they expecting a photography crew from Southern Living Magazine to drop by at the same time to shoot. Double surprise! Our joint presence transformed the photogenic oyster stall into food-paparazzi central for a couple of hours.

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The 33 Oyster Club

I introduced myself and my eye was immediately drawn to the line of 33 Oysters on the Half Shell books clipped to a line using clothespins. Over half of the pocket books had names scribbled prominently over the covers. This got me really excited for a few reasons: 1) Curious Oyster Co recently started a 33 Oysters Club, which offers guests an opportunity to sample 33 different oysters for $50 plus a keepsake tasting journal and 2) they are the first raw bar that decided to use my new 33 Oysters journal as their official oyster passport. Hooray! It’s kind of surreal seeing a tangible object that you helped create being used out in the real world.

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It’s All Good

The one-sheet menu consisted of five distinct sections: oysters, soup, snacks, salads, and a smoked fish plate. Frankly, everything looked so good that expert recommendations were much needed. Ellis suggested the poached shrimp in olive oil, cracked crab claws, and the boquerone salad, all of which I absolutely had to said yes to. I also ordered four local Louisiana oysters along with a couple other East Coast and West Coast options. This was a pretty ambitious lunch for one, but it’s not everyday that I’m in New Orleans!

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As I waited for the feast to commence, Melissa sent over a sneak preview of the locally caught and poached shrimp. The tangy, crisp onion, salty capers, and herbs on the shrimps were amazing. Serious wow moment. This dish was at once refreshing and satiating. It really hit the spot — I couldn’t stop eating them. The full-sized snack contained enough shrimp to share amongst a party of two or three (I’d estimate like 10-12 pieces in total?), but I would have a hard time keeping to my fair share.

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The cracked crab claws arrived next. Again, the serving size was generous enough to satisfy a small group… buuut I would rather just order one for myself. Each petite chilled claw contained a firm nugget of sweet and spicy crab meat. The marinade — a mixture using Steen’s Cane Vinegar — was sublime. This open-clawed crab snack felt like a novelty, but I learned that it’s actually quite popular in the gulf. Two other well-reputed restaurants that I visited on this trip featured the same thing, but I’ve concluded that Curious Oyster Co delivers the best version, hands down.

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The last non-oyster dish to arrive was a colorful boquerone salad garnished with salt cured yolk shavings. Umami bomb central. The fresh bibb lettuce, radish, tomato and parmesan really helped support the intensity of the vinegar-laced anchovies and egg. Balancing acidity and savoriness is something that the Curious Oyster Co has really mastered. I’m not sure why cured yolks aren’t grated over dishes more often, but it’s got me thinking about how to up my congee game moving forward…

OH. Last, but not least (before we get to the oysters), I need to talk about the house butter. It’s not just like any butter. It’s cane syrup-infused butter. Which means it’s like where-have-you-been-all-my-life butter. Steen’s Cane Syrup is a renowned southern cuisine staple, but this was the first time that I’ve ever encountered it. Mixing it into a high quality French Beurre de Baratte is guaranteed to please. I definitely ate too much of it. Way too much.

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A Curious Oyster Tasting

Finally, let’s talk about their oyster game. That’s what I came for, after all. Curious Oyster Co typically features around nine different oyster varieties from the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts. On the day when I arrived, they had four. Limited variety and distribution options are two challenges that the team faces on a regular basis, which is a shame because it kind of prevents them from truly living out their namesake. Curiosity and adventure is what this restaurant and the entire market is about. I’m confident that more oyster options will open up to them in the future.

Ellis isn’t usually the one behind the raw bar, but I suppose it was my lucky day. Using the traditional long-bladed oyster knife and oyster holder, he was able to pop a dozen open in no time. The shucking was pretty impressive. No grit or gashed bellies. No flipping either.

St. Bernard (LA Area 3) from Captain Johnny Smith
Salinity: 1 | Sweetness: 3 | Complexity: 2 | Size: 3-4 inch

For local oysters, they were surprisingly petite. Normally, these local oysters are 2-3 times as large! The salinity was very, very mild, but the meat had a bright and buttery flavor. I’ve discovered that I personally don’t mind spawny oysters (up to a certain size), and these were just around that border.

Baynes Sound from British Columbia
Salinity: 5 | Sweetness: 5 | Complexity: 4 | Size: 3-4 inch

It’s unfortunately difficult to know for sure where these oysters came from, but wherever they’re from, mother nature (and the grower) did a great job. The supple, fleshy meat had just the right amount of chewiness and potency. The bold herbaceous, seaweed flavors rolled across my palate like a fine broth, and it ended with an ultra sweet finish. After the first two, I had to order another two. Perhaps one of the best PNW oysters I’ve had in awhile! Melissa and Ellis seemed to agree.

James River from Virginia
Salinity: 1 | Sweetness: 2 | Complexity: 2 | Size: 3-4 inch

Meaty and mild, these oysters were comparable to the Louisiana St. Bernard’s. But as I revisited my tasting notes in my own personal 33 Oyster journal, I can tell you that they were more earthy, nutty than the Louisiana oysters, and possessed a much cleaner finish.

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My visit to the Curious Oyster Co was completed by a surprise visit from 33 Oyster Club member and cocktail chef Abigail Gullo of SoBou! As a former, but secretly forever-NYC gal (I mean, her Twitter handle is @NYCBaby for goodness sakes), we hit it off immediately. Abigail gave me the scoop on where to go in NOLA and which BK bars to hit up.

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All and all, this was the perfect way to start off any visit to New Orleans. The St. Roch Market has something for everyone, and especially if you’re a curious oyster lover. Just make sure to come hungry and you’ll leave happy. Sharing is optional.

Curious Oyster Co

St. Roch Market
2381 St Claude Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70117
(504) 408-2080

*A word on car rentals…

Renting a car might not sound like a big deal to any of you, but it was a momentous occasion for me. Having dwelled in Manhattan for over nine years, I’ve become pretty accustomed taking public transportation, taxis and Ubers everywhere. Although I still hold an active driver’s license, my comfort zone was definitely confined to the back and passenger seats. Being forced to drive on my own, while navigating an unfamiliar city, was something that I had not done in over 5 years. Thankfully, Google Maps and my muscle memory performed surprisingly well. I only ran one red light, unintentionally of course.

Oyster Bar ReviewFebruary 19, 2015

Oyster and Cocktails at The Leadbelly

Tasting oysters by themselves is already an amazing thing, but pairing them with a proper drink can do wonders! While I’ve sipped and savored my fair share of wine, champagne, sake, and beer with oysters, the world of cocktails has eluded me. To get a better grip on this decadent duo, I trekked down to The Leadbelly to learn more.

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The Leadbelly is what I’d categorize as a “second date” hot spot. This cozy Lower East Side oyster and cocktail den is conveniently situated across the street from its big brother, The Fat Radish. If you’re looking to impress, start at The Fat Radish for dinner and cap the evening off with some cocktails and oysters at The Leadbelly.

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My date for the night was my booze specialist friend, Aliza Kellerman. She talks about gin with the same gusto as I reserve for bivalves, and getting exposure to this whole new world was awesome. Anyway, I arrived to The Leadbelly and received a warm welcome from Carmine Scheubel and Alex McNeely. Carmine, the GM, gave me a thorough rundown of the oyster menu. They had 13 varieties available (5 West, 8 East), which was a significant expansion since the last time when I visited (a little over a year ago, I’ll admit). There were even a couple new varieties that I had not tried before! More on that later…

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When it comes to oyster and wine pairings, oyster and beer pairings, and even oyster and sake pairings, there exists sets of guidelines that will produce fairly reliable matches. Pairing oysters and cocktails is much trickier to generalize because the category encompasses many different liquors and ingredients. Furthermore, the pressure is really on the bartender or mixologist to execute them well. Unless if you’re asking for a straight up shot, the art of making a cocktail leaves a lot of room for error. Thankfully, we were in very good hands mixologist Alex McNeely.

Although they specialize in oysters and liquor, you won’t find oyster and cocktail pairings written out on the menu. Why is that? The experience here is a decidedly personalized and interactive one. “We try to keep it as a conversation — we like to listen to what the customer wants,” said Alex. So the next time you visit, ask for a recommendation. For us, Alex had four specific pairings in mind.

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Montauk Pearl (NY) + Richard Scarry

The Richard Scarry is named after a popular American children’s author and it features Barr Hill Gin, Velvet Falernum, Allspice Dram, Malort, House Apple-Tarragon Syrup. On its own, the Richard Scarry is an enchanting cocktail. I particularly loved the aesthetic of the copper cup. The spices in the drink plays quite well with the briny wash of the petite Montauk Pearls. It was like having the kick of a good mignonette without having to douse the oyster in red wine vinegar.

Other oysters to pair: Mermaid Selects (NY), Fishers Island (NY), Beausoleil (NB), Cape May Salts (NJ).

Alex was kind enough to share his recipe for the Richard Scarry, which I’ve included at the end of this post.

Kumamoto (CA) + A Lush Life

The second pairing was a bit more challenging. A Lush Life — as in a rich life, not a life as a drunk — featured Jalapeno-infused Gin (Alex only used the seeds and membrane of the pepper to minimize vegetal flavors), Mezcal, Thai Basil infused Dolin Blanc Vermouth, Salted Lime Cordial and Soda. On its own, the cocktail was smoky, tangy, and deliciously provocative. West Coast oysters can be a notorious for their overt minerality and vegetal notes. Under some circumstances when the salinity is naturally weak, a fishy flavor also becomes more evident. Tonight, these Kumamotos from Humboldt Bay lacked the briny backbone that is essential to make their quintessential cucumber and melon notes pop. In this case, A Lush Life was a little too lively for the Kumo’s. It simply overpowered the little guys.

Other oysters to pair: Kumiai (MX), Hog Island Sweetwater (CA), Little Skookum (WA).

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Fin de la Baie (NB) & Cardinal Sour

The Fin de la Baie or “End of the Bay” oyster is raised in Bouctouche, New Brunswick by Little Shemogue Oyster Company. While the name is brand new to me, the flavor profile is similar to that of a Beausoleil. Medium brine, earthy body, and a mineral-sweet finish. To complement this profile, Alex put together a super rich and frothy Cardinal Sour, which features Bourbon, Chai-infused Amontillado Sherry, Cranberry Shrub, and Egg White. He called it a “long oyster shooter.” I interpreted it like an oyster dessert. In any case, the sweetness from this oyster played well with the acidity from the cranberry and the creamy texture of the drink made the petite slurp feel more substantial.

Other oysters to pair: Wellfleet (MA), Moonstone (RI), Duxbury (MA), Raspberry Point (PEI).

Matunuck (RI) + Copper Cup No. 4

Finally, Alex brought out one last round of drinks. This was an off-the-menu experimental mix. Copper Cup #4 featured Carrot Juice, Lemon, Cumin, Freshly-pressed Ginger, Aperol, Phenol Cherry, and Absolut Elyx. This cocktail had the same effect on the oysters as the Richard Scarry — it acted like an elegant mignonette substitute. The Matunuck (which we all had a debate about how to pronounce) is a salty little oyster grown out of Potters Pond, RI by Perry Raso. The cumin worked well to dimensionalize the simplicity of the Matunucks.

Other oysters to pair: Katama Bay (MA), Glidden Point (ME), Mystic (CT), Chincoteague (VA).

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Last but not least, I asked to sample a couple Patriot Points from Washington. These large (4-5 inch) Pacific oysters were brand new to me. They were very meaty, but had a pleasant mild brininess, silky vegetal notes, and fresh, grassy finish. Although I’m not sure where they’re grown yet (if you know, please leave a comment), they taste cleaner and lighter than other West Coast oysters. So despite their big size, which would suggest a bigger flavor, Patriot Points strike a good balance.

This little experiment proved to be quite successful, as I was able to gain more knowledge about liquor, cocktails, and how good cocktail pairings worked in general. All four cocktails used different combinations of liquors (Gin, Bourbon, Mezcal, Vodka, etc) and a spectrum of other ingredients — some familiar, mostly new. My biggest takeaway here is that a cocktail with acidity and spice does a great job of mimicking what mignonette does as an accoutrement for oysters.

How to Pair Oysters & Cocktails at The Leadbelly

  • Ask your mixologist or server for a recommendation and provide your oyster and booze preferences.
  • Order at least two of each type of oyster (or better yet, a dozen of a kind). Try one without the cocktail (or cocktail sauce, for that matter) and then try the others followed by a sip of your drink.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix and match the oysters with the booze! It’s all about experimenting.

What’s next? I’d like to explore more cocktail pairings with West Coast oysters… I’m not 100% convinced yet if that works or not. Perhaps a sake-based cocktail would do well here.

Many thanks to the team at The Leadbelly for hosting this tasting and I hope to return again soon!

* * *

Richard Scarry

Recipe provided by Alex McNeely

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 oz Barr Hill Gin
  • 3/8 oz Velvet Falernum
  • 3/8 oz Allspice Dram
  • 3/8 oz Grapefruit Juice
  • 3/8 oz Lime Juice
  • 1/8 oz Letherbee’s Malört (Bësk)
  • 1/2 oz Housemade Apple-Tarragon Syrup*
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients (except the bitters) in cocktail shaker, light shake to temperature, serve over crushed ice in a cool copper mug
  2. Garnish with a crisp apple fan soaked in bitters and honey, grated lime zest

For construction sake, the lime juice/grapefruit juice and Allspice Dram/Velvet Falernum can be pre-mixed.
In this case, recipe would call for 3/4 oz of each mixture.

*Apple-Tarragon Syrup

  1. On stove, heat up 1 gallon of apple cider to boil
  2. Bring down to a light simmer, stirring occasionally
  3. Reduce to 1/3 original volume
  4. Stir in 1 cup of roughly chopped fresh tarragon and remove from heat
  5. Let sit for two hours, fine strain the Tarragon.

Oyster Bar ReviewFebruary 13, 2015

House of Shells: Where I Go for Oysters in DC

As a big fan of House of Cards, I have been counting the days until Season 3 is released on Netflix (and that “glitch” in their system really got my hopes up.) Well played, Mr. President, well played.

In A Half Shell

There is no doubt in my mind that the Underwoods are oyster fans, as they both seem to have a penchant for intrigue and seduction. It’s only a matter of time before our favorite power couple is caught downing these delicious little devils in our nation’s capital. After all, eating oysters is our patriotic duty. So without further delay, here are my favorite places to have oysters in DC.

Hank’s Oyster Bar

Hank’s Oyster Bar was one of my first oyster bar adventures outside of New York. In fact, you can read about my first experience there in 2009 here! (My oyster flavor descriptors have clearly improved over the years…) Even today, Hank’s is still a reliable oyster destination and carries both local and far-away varieties. It is my default go-to spot by myself or with company, simply because I know that I’ll have a good time.

There are three locations: Capitol Hill and Dupont Circle in DC, and Old Town in VA. Dupont is great for a weekend brunch or relaxed dinner with an old friend. Or if you’re like me, a seat at the oyster bar is also perfectly cozy. A few folks might bump into your back though, because it’s in a heavy traffic area. The Old Town location also has a lot of charm, and is well situated to be a work lunch hot spot.

Bag tags were visible and easily accessible, and the shucking quality was pretty good. I was able to try a few new varieties such as Tom’s Coves from Chincoteague, Tarkill, and Cannon Cove. There was a “Hog Island Style BBQ Oyster” on the menu, which apparently was a homage to the signature grilled oysters from Hog Island Oyster Co. in Tomales Bay. The flavors were good, but the oysters were a bit small. I think they would’ve worked better had they used slightly larger oysters to start. Also, I think the name should be changed to Hank’s BBQ Oysters since 1) they can totally own it and 2) it didn’t taste anything like the ones that I had at Hog Island!

Hank’s Oyster Bar
Capitol Hill – 633 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington DC 20003
Dupont Circle – 1624 Q Street NW, Washington DC 20009
Old Town – 1026 King Street, Alexandria VA 22314
website

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Rappahannock Oyster Bar in Union Market

Anyone who loves food and entrepreneurial food businesses needs to check out the very-hip-slash-historic Union Market. My lovely friend Kim Bryden of Cureate introduced me to this place to me and I instantly became obsessed. If I lived in DC, I’d probably hang out there all of the time — like Kim does. The Rappahannock Oyster Bar takes up prime real-estate in this sun-filled epicurean haven. Their open wood counter and stainless-steel kitchen is the perfect place to order a dozen oysters and chat it up with the shuckers.

The Rappahannock Oyster Bar sells four oyster varieties from their own farms: the signature Rappahannock River Oysters, Olde Salts, Barcats, and Stingrays. On the lefthand wall, there’s a great chalkboard map illustrating where each oyster comes from. I ordered the lot and a handful of clams for good measure. It was a lovely tasting flight of the Chesapeake, and flawlessly shucked.

Rappahannock Oyster Bar in Union Market
1309 5th St NE
Washington, DC 20002
website

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Pearl Dive Oyster Palace

Tucked away in Logan Circle is the chicest nautically-embellished oyster boutique that you’ll ever see. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace brings together all the elements that go into a fantastic social outing: a well-stocked liquor bar, an eclectic oyster selection (raw and cooked) with a multitude of accoutrements, conversation-worthy decor, and very comforting food.

My last visit was in 2013 with a group of four. It was a busy Saturday morning and the brunch crowd was strong. Fortunately, we found a seat at the cocktail bar and started with the booze. The cocktails at Pearl Dive were delicious and potent. If you are a bloody mary fan, have a go at theirs. I really enjoyed it! The one strange thing that I encountered at Pearl Dive was their shell souvenir policy. Basically, you can’t take shells out of the restaurant. Sounds like a wacky DC rule, which I haven’t exactly tested elsewhere in town…

Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
1612 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
website

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Old Ebbitt Grill

Finally, DC’s most historic oyster bar also throws down an epic annual oyster party known as the Old Ebbitt Oyster Riot. I think that this is where Frank Underwood would frequent, as it’s right next door to the White House. For one long weekend in the fall, this old school tavern plays host to hundreds of hungry and curious oyster lovers. 25 oyster varieties were represented from all across the country, each with their own spotlit booth. While many shuckers prefered to present the oysters on the top/flat shell, others favored the cup side so that the oyster could retain its liquor. But there was really no room for seawater tonight. Every oyster booth seemed like it was flanked by a wine booth, and every pour felt very generous. So generous, in fact, that in no time at all, my movements felt a little sloshy! By the end of it, I think I had slurped four dozen oysters, sipped many glasses of wine, and somehow managed to find my way back to my friends’ apartment without incident.

Old Ebbitt Grill
675 15th St NW
Washington, DC 20005
website

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Random trivia: did you know at oysters were one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite foods?

Oyster Bar ReviewOctober 1, 2014

Astoria’s Oyster Cafe of New York

Earlier this summer, I trekked out to Astoria to check out a new oyster bar that’s been more or less off the usual NYC-food radar. I was pleasantly surprised by Oyster Cafe of New York, a little oasis amidst an ever-changing neighborhood.

UPDATE: Oyster Cafe of New York has closed. 🙁 

If you love the nautical charm of The John Dory, but want the intimacy of Upstate, with a twist of Kanoyama, and happen to live in Queens, Oyster Cafe of New York should be your new go-to spot. This relatively new Astoria eatery by Daigo Yamaguchi has everything you need for a stellar after work pick-me-up: a great array of East and West Coast oysters, knock-out small plates and savory snacks, and a reasonably priced drinks menu.

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The first thing you’ll notice when you enter is the ceiling-high under-the-sea chalkboard art. The shucking station in the back corner of the restaurant is decorated with flotsam and jetsam. Guests either have a choice of sitting at the long counter (perfect for singles and couples) or one of the six high tables.

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I arrived just around the start of Oyster Happy Hour: $1.10 East Coast select and $1.70 West Coast select. Today, they were featuring Sewansecotts (VA) and Samish Bays (WA). I ordered those and topped the half dozen off with another three Kusshis (BC) and Effinghams (BC) for good measure.

Sewansecotts from the Eastern Shore of Virginia are a tried and true favorite. At Oyster Cafe, they were just as meaty and refreshingly briny as I remember them being. Although the shell size seemed a bit small for Sewansecotts, they were still the largest on the plate.

The Samish Bays from Washington were deliciously pillowy and sweet. Their shell had a nice cat paw effect that sort of resembled true Kumamotos. The meat had a medium brininess that transitioned into a silky, mineral finish. Samish Bay is located north of Seattle, between Mount Baker and the magnificent San Juan Islands. In 1919, the very first Pacific (gigas) oysters flourished, after being tossed from their cargo ship. They have since changed the face of the oyster industry on the West Coast forever.

Kusshi oysters grown in Deep Bay, British Columbia are so consistent that I’m able to identify them by sight alone now. However, these few felt a bit different (I might even go as far as to say “off”) than usual. Unlike their usual pearly white and ivory shells, these had a dusty grey exterior. The oyster flavor itself wasn’t pleasant either. They had little brininess and zero sweetness — very strange for this particular brand.

Lastly, it’s good to see Effinghams back on the menu again! These gorgeous Pacific oysters trekked a long way from British Columbia to get to my plate. The meat was plump, but liquor was limited. They didn’t have the velvety black mantle that I’ve come to associate with the name — perhaps they’re using a different genetic strain. The crisp, celery salt-like brininess tastes discernibly different from its Washington neighbors.

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My platter of oysters arrived with a series of little black chalkboard tabs that identified each variety. For accoutrements, I was given couple lemon wedges, a small cup of horseradish, and three miniature squeeze bottles of different sauces: homemade cocktail sauce, ponzu, and salsa verde. The bottles allowed me to apply just the right amount of dressing onto each oyster without any waste. Quite genius!

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I decided to try their popular 3 Bean Salad, which consisted of chickpea, butter bean, kidney bean, grape tomato, celery, avocado and corn with shiokoji dressing. I was intrigued by the dressing — it was made partly with Koji, a special mold used in the production of sake. The combination was really addictive and I found myself scarfing the entire thing down.

Christian (my server and resident Oyster Cafe Instagrammer) probably thought I was a little nuts to order not one, but two oyster shooters. The chef was in the middle of refining the menu, so I inadvertently volunteered myself up as a guinea pig for a new type of oyster shooter. The classic was a straight up Bloody Mary oyster shot. Simple, smooth, but a little too much liquid. The experimental one contained raw quail egg and some sort of citrusy puree. The flavors worked nicely, but the experience was a bit awkward. The contents were suctioned to the bottom, so it took a little finesse to drink it elegantly.

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Overall, I had a great time at Oyster Cafe of New York and would love to visit again. It is a bit of a hike from Manhattan, especially where I’m based. However, it’s not terrible enough to keep me away. More importantly, it’s a great option for all you oyster lovers who are already based in Astoria!

Oyster Cafe of New York (CLOSED)
25-07 Broadway, Astoria, New York
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