A hefty box of Pleasure House Oysters from Lynnhaven, Virginia were dropped off at my office in Times Square. Little did I know these were a modern day homage to a historically iconic oyster. I shared them with a select group of the most avid oyster loving colleagues, and here’s what we had to say…
The verdict was unanimous: Pleasure House Oysters are amazing. Everyone who tried an oyster most certainly wandered back for a second… and third… maybe a forth, accompanied by big wide puppy eyes. No one could get enough of these supremely plump and toothsome oysters from the great Lynnhaven River.
Back in their heyday, Lynnhaven Oysters were requested by the rich and the royal during the 18th and 19th centuries. European elites loved them for their taste, texture, and tremendous size. Unfortunately over-harvesting and pollution rapidly deteriorated the water quality, and decimated the oyster population along with it. In recent years, there has been a turnaround in the area’s productivity thanks to rigorous water conservation efforts. So much so that the areas where Pleasure House Oysters grow are still occasionally closed for safety reasons*. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to taste Chris Ludford’s oysters in their peak condition back in March.
The Pleasure House brand was created by the Ludford Brothers, who have been growing their own since 2010 as a method of quality control. They care for their oysters by hand from start to finish, only using a motor boat to get them to and from the farm. Talk about a sustainable and artisan product!
But let’s pause for a minute and talk about the name. I mean, I’ve come across some pretty saucy names in my day (i.e. The Forbidden Oyster, Naked Cowboy Oysters, French Kiss…etc), but when I received that first email from Chris, I definitely raised an eyebrow. Here’s the scoop, straight from the creator:
The name of our oysters is a reference to the proximity of our farm to Pleasure House Creek and Pleasure House Point which are both on the Lynnhaven River. The area was settled in 1635 and not long after a tavern was opened on what is now Pleasure House Road which is also near all of the previously named locations. It had no other name other than The Pleasure House. There are many rumors as to what could be found at this tavern from 1700 through the late 1800s but the only facts that are widely accepted point to it as one of the first taverns in the New World where spirits could be had. During the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 it was used by the British and Americans (respectively) as a base and observation point for nearby enemy shipping traffic on the Chesapeake Bay entrance. Unfortunately the structure burned in the 1980′s and has been lost forever.
So there you have it. These oysters are now forever tied (in my mind) to the unimaginable debauchery that was had back then. Their type of fun probably made Gatsby parties look like kids play. Either way, it’s quite provocative and exciting. As a brand strategist, I applaud this level of storytelling. I think it’s a smart way to reel the consumer in and have them associate you with an interesting idea. But of course, branding and marketing isn’t everything. Now it was time to see for myself what they were all about.
The shells were hearty and solid, which made them easy to open without much crumbling. One of my favorite moments when I’m shucking an oyster is hearing and feeling the unlocking of the hinge. It’s like opening a icy can of beer on a hot summer day or popping the cork off a fine bottle of champagne.
The meat, as you can see from the photos, was superbly plump and white. The oyster bellies bulged from their shells, which still contained a great deal of clear oyster liquor. No mud, no grit, and no oyster crabs either.
Tilting the bill of the shell to my lips, I sipped the chilled oyster liquor. It was smooth and had a well-balanced medium salinity that tasted fresh and lively. Next, I slurped the oyster back and chewed carefully. The first sensation that I felt was a sensory awakening. These were extremely clean and crisp oysters! Harvested merely 24 hours before, I could feel the vivaciousness in the flesh.
They were quite plush and varied in mouthfeel. Some bits were as elastic as a clam, while others were soft and supple like sea urchin. I’m a huge fan of interesting texture, and these definitely had it. The flavor was a brothy mix of vegetal flavors: soybean, seaweed, and subtle grassy notes rose to the top. The sweetness was subtle, but rose in force near the finish. The more you eat, the sweeter they seemed to taste.
Overall, Pleasure House Oysters delivered a wonderfully pleasurable experience for me and my colleagues. I hope to see them soon on oyster menues around the city.
*A Side Note: In April, I was informed that the river had a large part shut down for harvest and Pleasure House Oysters was part of it. The oysters that I consumed were perfectly safe, free of contaminants. This closure was the result of, “a general degradation of water quality” as put by the Virginia Department of Health. The readings of poor water quality stemmed from an abnormally wet February and March. Pleasure House Oyster farm had the lowest readings in the closed area and was unfortunately just barely inside the closed area by about 750 yards! Anyway, they are well on their way to reopen at the beginning of June.
As a last hurrah to the summer, I took a rather impromptu trip out to Seattle for two reasons: see friends and eat oysters. After spending several days slurping West Coast gems around the Emerald City and doing semi-touristy things, here’s the recap of the highlights.
The first and most obvious oyster bar to talk about is Elliott’s Oyster House. This seafood institution has just about everything: a massive oyster list, dozens of delicious wines, phenomenal appetizers, and signature entrees. Plus, they’ve got an outdoor space that stretches the better half of Pier 56. Thanks to the amazing weather, we were able to savor the fresh air outside while enjoying happy hour.
Happy Hour deals are popular around the city (there’s even an app that tracks all of them… why don’t we have that in NYC?) and Elliott’s is no different. They start at 3PM with a $0.75 oyster special. Then at 4PM it increases to $1.25 and then to $1.75 at 5PM. The competition for oyster bar seats is fierce, so make sure you get there plenty early. Also, don’t let the impatient glares from hungry Happy Hour fans intimidate you. When you go, be sure to walk PAST the first Elliott’s oyster counter that’s facing the street. There is a separate entrance for the oyster bar a dozen or so steps down the pier.
The oyster menu at Elliott’s is part geek, part tease. It lists out every single variety of oyster that they carry, along with its origin and grow-out method (first time I’ve seen this on a menu!), but will only place checkmarks next to those that are available. I got super excited to see Olympias and European Flats on the menu, but was later let down by the aforementioned caveat. Still, we managed to try a bunch of delicious west coast varieties.
Mirada from South Hood Canal, Washington (Beach)
Flavor: 6 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 6 | Texture: Soft, pillowy
These petite palette pleasers had a really sweet and satisfying flavor of edamame.
Bayne Sound from Vancouver Island, BC (Intertidal beach)
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 9 | Sweetness: 8 | Texture: Chewy, firm, crunchy at times
Bright, briny, and rather large — these savory oysters were packed with a mineral punch.
Kusshi from Vancouver Island, BC (Suspended)
Flavor: 6 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 7 | Texture: Plump, creamy
These oysters are impossible not to love: perfectly sweet, fruity, and creamy bites.
Barron Point from South Puget Sound, Washington (Intertidal beach)
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 5 | Sweetness: 6 | Texture: Creamy, chewy
Relatively mild flavors compared to other west coast oysters, but nonetheless delicate and balanced.
Pickering Passage from South Puget Sound, Washington (Intertidal beach)
Flavor: 7 | Salinity: 4 | Sweetness: 5 | Texture: Thin, soft
These slender oysters tasted quite fishy — in a good way — at least in moderation.
We also ordered the fried calamari and famous crabcakes, which I’d highly recommend trying. Overall, Elliott’s is a great place to check out when you’re visiting. It’s conveniently located to some other cool attractions such as the newly installed ferris wheel and Pikes Place Market.
This is the view of the Sound off the pier just beyond Elliott’s Oyster House. Gorgeous right? Make sure to go when the weather is nice… I heard that you typically can’t see these breathtaking Olympic mountains! Early September may be the way to go.
Next up is The Walrus and the Carpenter in Ballard. First thought I had while entering the space was, “Did I really leave NYC or am I back in Brooklyn all of the sudden?” The reclaimed decor, the quirky characters behind the counter, the matter-of-fact menu… just about every minute detail was carefully considered, pondered, and crafted. The only thing that didn’t feel like it belonged were the baskets of Walrus & Carpenter t-shirts stored atop the wine cabinet. Although it took us about an hour to get off the wait list, we didn’t really mind. We sipped dark & stormy’s and nibbled on phenomenal salmon at the adjacent restaurant, Staple & Fancy Merchantile. I would highly recommend checking both restaurants out — perhaps doing oysters first at Walrus & Carpenter, followed by a meal at Ethan Stowe’s Staple & Fancy Merchantile. The other way around seems to work too!
See the dude with the cap? That’s the shucker. And he’s awesome.
The Walrus & the Carpenter oyster meu isn’t nearly as extensive as Elliott’s, but I appreciate restaurants that are confident in their limited selections. It ensures that the product is at its very best. The shucking was impeccable. Each oyster sat very pretty in its shell, that is, until I came along.
Hammersly from Hammersly Inlet, Washington
Flavor: 6 | Salinity: 6 | Sweetness: 7 | Texture: Creamy, soft
This crisp, sweet oyster had a miraculously delicious after taste … of lettuce or something?
Treasure Cove from Southern Puget Sound, Washington
Flavor: 5 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 7 | Texture: Chewy, semi-firm
Petite, but very savory — they possess a delicate seaweed taste and clean finish.
When I wasn’t eating oysters, I was usually either eating something else or drinking something else. Seattle is PACKED with amazing restaurants — in fact, the food scene is quite comparable to the best of NYC’s. There probably isn’t the same quantity, but oh, the quality… on par and at times, above. Here’s a list of the other places that I really enjoyed:
Terra Plata: Amazing, amazing, amazing. The ambiance, the rooftop, the organic produce, the seafood… I’ve never had mussels so plump and juicy. Every dish was prepared to perfection. Loved the chanterelles and stuffed roasted peppers. I would eat there again, and again, and again. Just be prepared for a serious wait (or try and make reservations in advance!)
Toulouse Petit Kitchen & Lounge: I have four words — Late Night Happy Hour. It’s a must. It’s famous and now I know why. Fried oysters, raw oysters, pork belly, po’boys, the works. Nearly everything from the regular menu was offered and half price. We ate and drank like kings for a fraction of the price. On Wednesday nights, they also bring in a DJ to amp up the mood.
Umi Sake House: “I’ll have one of every special,” was the phrase that I uttered to the head sushi chef. That was precisely what I got. Favorite was the buttery, dreamy albacore belly.
360 Local: Chanterelles egg scramble? Yes please! This farm-to-table, local, organic haven just a couple blocks up from where I was staying in Belltown was the perfect brunch spot.
Fare Start: Now here’s a concept that’s new to me. A non-profit restaurant… they train low-income or homeless citizens to work in the kitchen. Once having graduated the program, many find work in restaurants around the city.
To help work off the many meals consumed, I did a bit of sea kayaking around West Seattle and the Sound. Thanks to Scott from Alki Kayak Tours, I learned how to brace semi-turbulent waves like a champ. When I signed up for the tour, I had no idea that it was a one-on-one deal. So when I found out that we were all on our own, it was better than what I had expected! If you like kayaking, I’d highly recommend taking the Lighthouse tour with Scott. You’ll get to see the charming lighthouse, many mountain ranges and peaks (if you’re out there on a good day), sea lions and seahawks, and maybe even the Statue of Liberty (not kidding).
Last, but certainly not least is Taylor Shellfish Farms at Melrose Market. It’s now my favorite place to go for oysters in Seattle. The store itself was very unique — it’s part market, part oyster bar. The cashiers were also the shuckers. There were high stools, a chowder bar, and a selection of fine oyster wines (curated by no other than oyster wine aficionado Jon Rowley).
I met up with Jon at Taylor on Saturday evening a short while after returning from kayaking. While Jon was rather calm about being in a room with oodles of shellfish and crustaceans, I was brimming with glee. I felt like a kid in a candy store… of geoduck, dungeness crab, kumamoto oysters, and mussels. We ordered a dozen or two Kumamotos and Kusshis, scallop ceviche, and geoduck sashimi. Words cannot describe how happy I was right then.
For those who have not tried geoduck — or know what geoduck even is — make it a point to do so. As pictured above on the right, geoduck is a rather phallic looking mollusk. Want to know what else? They squirt at random. No joke. But in sashimi form, this seemingly crass clam takes on an astonishingly delicate and refined flavor. It has a crunchy, smooth texture and a subtly sweet finish. It’s no where as complex as the oyster, but sometimes, I crave it more.
It was difficult to leave this beautiful city. I am definitely returning next year for more eats, kayaking, and fun! If you have your own Seattle story or tips, be sure to leave a comment!
Visit my Flickr for the full photo gallery.
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.
I’m always a little skeptical to find quality oyster bars in towns that aren’t near the ocean or a major airport, but Max’s Oyster Bar in Hartford, CT has reaffirmed that it’s indeed possible.
As much as I love the bustling urban life in New York City, I enjoy the occasional retreat up to my parents’ place in “rural” Connecticut for some peace, quiet, and mom’s amazing home cooking. I love my mom’s Chinese meals so much that I always insist on staying home to eat rather than dine out. After a little whimpering and wishlisting, my mom graciously obliges. However this past weekend our family had the opportunity to celebrate several big events (new jobs, my birthday, the new year, yadda) so I proposed that we go out for an all-encompassing celebratory meal.
The last time when I visited Max’s Oyster Bar, could barely tell a Beausoleil from a Barnstable. Now that my palette and eye has been sharpened, I figured that Max’s was worth another try. This old-world (read: deep burgundy leather booths and vintage prints) seafood gallery carried about seven or eight East Coast varieties ranging from PEI to Virginia. The ambiance inspired me to stick to a few classics such as the Wellfleets, Onsets and Conways and then I spontaneously topped it off with some Mayflower Points (thanks Shane of Upstate for solving the name/geography mystery for me) and Cape Cods.
By the way, I find oysters that are named after a BIG area — such as Cape Cod or Hood Canal — extremely confusing. WHERE in Cape Cod did you guys come from? Did it even matter to restaurant/seller/farmer? Was it East Cape Cod? South? What merroir am I actually experiencing here?? I actually ordered these ambiguous oysters, because I wanted to compare them to the Wellfleets. Did they taste at all the same? Completely different? Turned out that they were different but beyond that, I have no context as to how to evaluate them. So to the sellers of “Cape Cod Oysters” and (ahem) Max’s Oyster Bar, please try to be a little more specific with your product names. I guess this is coming from someone who knows (and cares) way too much about where her oysters come from. This is also, ironically, coming from someone who orders the house Pino at the wine bars and couldn’t care less about where it’s from.
Secondly — branded oysters vs unbranded. What really are the differences? Are Conways the same as Conway Cups? From my notes, it doesn’t seem like it but apparently they could be. Conway Cups are trademarked, whereas sellers can use the term Conway without problems. They may be indeed from the same waters, but grown by two different entities. There are also Conway Royales which are much larger (must try). Many thanks to Christopher Adams and Brady Hall for the tips!
Eating oysters with my parents is an amusing experience and especially because of my mom. When we were deciding how many oysters to order, she declared that she’d only eat two or three tops. Of course, she ended up stealing away five or six (because they were “so tasty.”) Now if I had known that she’d do this — which I should have — I would’ve ordered more. The oysters were all very much in visibly in their prime. The shells were filled with cool, briny liquor. The meat was firm, plump, and cream-colored. After the first two dozen, I called for another half dozen to cap my dad and I off, after hearing my mom declare that she wouldn’t have anymore. Not that it’s a big deal if she does, but I’d like to know in advance so that I can account for her AND my portion. Then she ate three more of the six. -_-
Wellfleet from Northeastern Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts * * * *
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 9 | Sweetness: 6 | Umami: 5 | Texture: Firm, resilient, mushroomy
These oysters possessed a shockingly salty liquor that complimented the sweet, crisp meat
Onset from Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts * * * *
Flavor: 10 | Salinity: 9 | Sweetness: 8 | Umami: 8 | Texture: Pillowy, smooth, thick
Plump, creamy, a punctuation of brininess that trails with sweet, seaweed notes; the shells are splotchy gunmetal and green
Conway from Prince Edward Island, Canada * * *
Flavor: 7 | Salinity: 8 | Sweetness: 5 | Umami: 6 | Texture: Deep, pillowy, soft
These oysters were very briny and had a delicious miso soup savoriness to them
Mayflower Point from Dennisport, Massachusetts * * *
Flavor: 7 | Salinity: 5 | Sweetness: 5 | Umami: 6 | Texture: Gummy, silky
Medium brininess with an unmistakeable metallic undertone that was subtly bitter (like tea leaves), but nonetheless refreshing — quite the palette cleanser!
Cape Cod from Massachusetts * * *
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 6 | Sweetness: 7 | Umami: 8 | Texture: Firm, elastic, plush
They don’t have the mouth-puckering saltiness of some other Cape Cod oysters like the Wellfleet, but it’s sweet soy flavors are undeniably bold and vibrant
Next up… an undercover assignment. Restaurants and kitchen staff beware.
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