My favorite part about oyster eating is not exactly knowing what to expect. But for some people, that’s pretty terrifying. Well, fear not my friends! I have found a fantastic new perfect starter oyster and a new oyster bar in NYC to enjoy them.
Say hello to Capital Oyster, a beautiful tide-tumbled Pacific oyster from Spencer Cove, Washington. Don’t let the hip, new name and slick website fool you. This oyster has roots in one of the oldest oyster farming communities in the country, and this joint venture between a 5th-generation oyster farmer and two of the largest shellfish companies in Washington State is like creating the perfect storm. I have a feeling that the Capital Oyster is going to quickly become a fan favorite. But enough about business, let’s have some fun!
I dropped by Virgola East Village on a sunny Saturday afternoon for a pre-dinner snack. As soon as I crossed through the threshold, the signature black brick walls, brassy light fixtures, and merlot-colored leather lounge sofas transported me to another world. This Virgola is almost identical to the first Virgola in Greenwich Village, but about six times bigger (for context: the flagship is the width of an alleyway).
I first met Joseph Marazzo, the owner and franchisor of the Virgola concept, on New Year’s Day 2014. I still remember walking into that space and instantly liking the vibe. It was dark and moody, which was strikingly different from all of the other hipster/bistro-esque establishments in the area. Every detail was considered, but not over-designed. The oyster selection, crudo, charcuterie, Italian wines, and namesake prosecco were all meticulously curated and served without pretense. There should be at least one in every great city… and perhaps someday, there will be. (Btw: Alphabet City is also getting its own Virgola…the next one will be on Avenue B between East 13th and 14th Street.)
To start the snacking off, Joseph brought over a bottle of the Virgola Prosecco and a trio sampler: sliced baguette drizzled with olive oil, a clover arrangement of salumi, and fresh mozzarella with olive oil, vinaigrette, and basil. Half way into devouring the plates, Joseph swung back around to show off his new Virgola Rosé, which is created by the same winery in Italy.
There’s a variety of seating options inside Virgola EV. First, there’s a monstrous bar at the center of the room, intimate booth seating on the left side, and a high table for a party of seven by the window. My favorite spot is at the window booth to the right of the entrance. The L-shaped sofa faces a large, open window and the ledge actually doubles as additional seating. It’s perfect for happy hour and impromptu photo shoots, like this one.
After the opening act, Joseph and one of his franchisees from Florida presented this marvelous two-tiered seafood platter. The bottom tier was comprised of two dozen Capital Oysters, and the top tier held clear bowls of jumbo shrimp cocktail, fluke & mango ceviche, and tuna tartar. My eyes widened. There was so much gloriousness to take in that it was almost too gorgeous to eat. Almost. 😉
I plucked one of the Capital Oysters out of the ice and brought it to my lips. The cornucopia-shaped oyster welled with cool, clear oyster liquor. After sipping a little bit of it to gauge the salinity (bright, smooth, oceanic), I knocked back the oyster and gave it a good chew. Delicious! The meat was petite—perhaps no bigger than a Kumamoto—but the flavor was pleasantly bold. Flavor notes varied ever so slightly between oyster to oyster, but all were perceptively fresh and clean. Some tasted of sweet sea grass, while others were a bit more mineral-forward. I would be curious to see how these change throughout the year, as the algae in the water can impact how fat and flavorful the oysters are. I wrote down a new entry in my 33 Oyster tasting notebook, and made a mental note to return soon.
So why does the Capital make a good starter oyster? I think its size and overall clean, crisp taste helps to provide the best “first oyster” experience. Although Capital Oysters will eventually come in an array of sizes, this cocktail oyster (about 2.5 inches) is great. Joseph agrees. “It’s a great oyster. I really like it because it’s so clean and briny. It’s also easy to shuck!”
What I personally love about the Capital Oyster is how deep cupped and pristine the shells are. I suppose that has a lot to do with the tide-powered tumbling. They feel delicate and dainty in the hand, and at a place like Virgola, it works very well. You could also turn the shells into makeshift shooters! Not that I want to encourage bad habits, but it might be just enough of a boost of courage for your “I don’t like oysters” friend to reconsider.
After the last oyster was savored, I leaned back to admire all of the shells. It was really interesting to see such a diversity in colorations and patterns within a single plate of the same oyster variety. I suppose it’s kind of like getting a box of chocolates… but infinitely better. This outing turned out to be just what I needed. I sipped on my glass of prosecco and contemplated the next move.
Virgola East Village (NOW CLOSED)
111 East 7th Street
New York, NY 10009