Promoted PostApril 25, 2016

Oh, Capital! Afternoon Oyster Tasting at Virgola East Village

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.

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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!

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
Website

This post was made possible by Capital City Oyster. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

Promoted PostJune 22, 2015

Cape Cod Oyster Tour Continues at Chatham Shellfish

You are probably familiar with the phrase, “The world’s your oyster,” but I am here to convince you that the oyster can also be your world. Over the last five years, I have traveled for oysters. There’s nothing quite like savoring them straight out of the water, and I have spent a lot of time seeking these briny morsels out all over the world. For my latest adventure, I had the opportunity to shadow Steve Wright, the farm manager for Chatham Shellfish Company on Cape Cod, Massachusetts a few weeks ago.

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Cape Cod is one of the great American oyster farming regions. The bracingly cold, nutrient-rich waters and ample ocean tides help create prime aquaculture environments. Chatham Shellfish Farm stretches for several acres in Oyster Pond, a saltwater pond (33ppt) historically celebrated for its abundant oyster beds. This productive, and beautiful body of water is connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the Nantucket Sound and Oyster River (as seen below). This area of Cape Cod enjoys 5-7 ft tides, which is enough to power their upwellers naturally.

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Today, Chatham Shellfish Company is the only commercial oyster farm in the area, but several oyster shanty’s still remain by the boat launch. Owner John Richards purchased the grant in 1976 and experimented with several species of shellfish. After much trial and error, he arrived at oysters. Steve came to work at Chatham Shellfish pretty much straight out of school. He studied at the University of Maine and also received training in aquaculture at the Bridgeport Aquaculture School. The appeal of creating a sustainable, domestic food supply was what got him interested in the field in the first place.

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After a quick tour of the processing room, it was time to hop on board the aqua-colored boat. A big blue bin in the middle was for the ice slurry, an important feature to note. As soon as Steve’s oysters are lifted from the water, they’re on a timer. In accordance with Massachusetts shellfish harvest regulations (see 3a), all oysters that are going to market must be packed and put on ice within 2 hours during the summer season. This is to help reduce the proliferation of vibrio.

Steve offered me a pair of boots, which I stupidly declined. No matter how many farms I visit, I never seem to be properly dressed for the occasion. The sunshine was lovely, but the wind chill was not. You can’t tell from these photos, but it was actually quite cold!

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We first passed by a cluster of Oystergro cages that belonged to Chatham’s shellfish department. The town has a longstanding Propagation Program which is intended to maintain and replenish commercial and recreational shellfish stocks for locals and visitors. (Check out this meaty 2014 status report!) About 100k oysters are grown out in these cages as seen above, which are later dispersed around the area like easter eggs. Anyone can apply for a seasonal “family” license. The fee is $35 if you’re a resident and $100 if you’re not. If I had more time on the Cape, I would totally apply for one of these. 🙂

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A few minutes later we reached a floating oyster house in the middle of the pond. The custom-built structure stores most of the farm’s grow out and processing equipment. Before this, I thought that I had seen the most eclectic collection of gear out in Wellfleet with the Puffers. I think a new record has been set! Chatham Shellfish uses the full spectrum of grow out equipment… from traditional rack and bags to floating trays to Oystergro cages to open trays lined in a row. They even bottom plant. I lost count after the sixth or seventh form.

Steve gave me a quick rundown of their farming process, which begins with planting oyster seed that’s just a few millimeters long. The seed is kept in a series of upwellers that sit just below the water surface in Oyster Pond and Oyster River. They leverage the natural tidal flow to move water and phytoplankton up and over the voracious baby oysters. Once the juvenile oysters grow to a certain size, they are transferred to nearby grow-out areas.

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Steve “Popeye the Oyster Man” and Brad “Golden Gorilla” work daily with the oysters.

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This one line of tray required a rather athletic approach to launch into the water. (See: https://instagram.com/p/3B_7CIOIVM)

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Steve fills the big blue bin with ice and seawater, making an instant slurry for refrigeration.

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Following the farm tour, we returned back to the floating platform for the tasting portion of the visit. We pulled out a handful of large 3+ inch Chatham oysters and placed them on the well-worn sorting table.

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Steve side-shucked a few of the larger oysters open. “I prefer side-shucking because it allows less interference with the belly,” he explained.

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I had a surprise for Steve: I lifted a couple bottles of premium sake out of my handbag, including Yuho “Eternal Embers” Junmai and Fukucho “Moon on the Water” Junmai Ginjo. It’s still a well-kept secret in this country that sake happens to be one of the most exquisite and complementary pairing for oysters.

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The blissfully sweet and savory Chatham oysters were out of this world, and they paired splendidly with the sakes. Every bite tasted fresh and alive. I happily jotted my tasting notes down in my new 33 Oyster journal.

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By the time we had eaten our fill, the tide was on its way out. Areas that once appeared empty now popped with lines of oysters.

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Many thanks to Steve and John for giving me a peek inside your farm!

This amazing trip was made possible by Expedia. You can enjoy this story again and other food-inspired travel tales on Expedia’s new “ Travel Identity Processor” section.