A quick photo recap of a oyster tasting at Epicerie Boulud on the UWS with my new favorite slurping buddy C!
The oyster bar offered five varieties that day: Sewansecott (VA, YAY!), East Beach Blonde (RI), Ninimoto (RI), Fire Lake (New Brunswick), and Kumamoto (WA).
Oysters and BBQ might go hand in hand in the south, but it’s rather uncommon to see it in the Northeast. At Blue Smoke however, they’re trying to change all of that. They called in the NY Oyster Lovers Meetup Group to be the first testers/guinea pigs of Chef Eddie Montalvo’s bivalve & barbecue creations.
There were ten of us that night and none of us knew what to expect. We had seen a preview of the menu, but it was hard to predict just how everything would be executed. Blue Smoke is well known for their lip-smacking barbecue, but oysters? Word on the street is that they’re looking to dive into the oyster scene, quite literally.
Chef Eddie came over to the table to say hello and confess just how nervous (!) he was for this meal. In fact, it seemed like his entire team was on edge — a good edge. The overall excitement and anticipation of what was to come kept us all very chatty. All of the oysters being used were sourced through W&T Seafood. Crystal and Adam were there to both help explain the product and experience it for themselves.
The first curveball of the night was a surprise oyster shot! The raw Matunuck oyster — the chef’s “absolute favorite” type of oyster — sat atop a small shot glass. The elixir was made of vodka, bloody mary (I think), and beef drippings (OMG!). It was also accompanied by a rather untraditional corn dog — or should I say “oyster dog”? The chef fell in love with the Matunuck oyster after visiting the farm, which is very understandable.
The plate of raw oysters featured Matunucks and Shigokus, to get a taste of both East and West coast. There were a variety of condiments available to us: cocktail, mignonette, cholula hot sauce, and homemade tarragon mayonnaise. I tried a little bit of the tarra-mayo mix, but quickly concluded that I’m just a purist through and through. The Shigoku oysters were also used in a hearty oyster pan roast. The thick, buttery soup consisted of a few poached oysters that added a depth to the flavor and texture.
By this time, everyone’s appetites were prepped and stretched, ready for more. Oh, we definitely got MORE. Texas-style sliced beef brisket with oyster cornbread stuffing. Then came heaps of slow-cooked pulled pork with mac & cheese. Followed by giant pieces of Applewood-smoked chicken with sesame cole slaw. Lastly, a trio of desserts swooped in to seal the deal: key lime pie, chocolate cupcakes, and seasonal cobbler crisp with homemade ice cream. This was a feast of epic proportions, and it hard garnered many envious looks from across the restaurant.
When Chef Eddie came out for the forth and final time, an enthusiastic round of applause arose from our table. Many thanks to the entire Blue Smoke team for putting this meal together. Also thanks to Crystal for organizing!
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.
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.
A couple of weeks ago, the members of the New York Oyster Lovers enjoyed a remarkable dinner at Saxon + Parole, under the careful consideration of Executive Chef Brad Farmerie. Being a long-time Farmerie fan, I had to be there! The way that he transformed a delicacy of the sea into a heavenly custard was nothing short of magical.
Our party was situated in the cozy subterranean wine cellar of Saxon + Parole that seemed more appropriate for an intimate family gathering than a meeting of like-minded strangers. While we all made small talk about our jobs (I was coincidentally sitting next to three other fellow marketing/advertising industry professionals), we scanned over the menu of the evening. Seven courses of pure oyster bliss — well, with exception to the dessert. No oyster there.
The amuse bouche was one of my favorites. A straightforward shot of “Bloody Maria” with a briny, fruity, and plump Shigoku oyster. When most restaurants attempt the oyster shooter, they usually submerge the naked shellfish in a bath of spicy and overpowering brew. However, I quite appreciated this rendition where you were able to enjoy the pure flavors of the oyster first (if you preferred) before chasing it down with the tart and peppery liquor.
The second course arrived with many OOHs and AHHs. The Effingham oyster custard with lobster, lime and caviar was layered elegantly on top of one another in a slender double shot glass. This was definitely my favorite of the night in terms of flavor and presentation. The caviar and lobster topping was a sure bet, but the custard really took the cake. The light and airy emulsion took on the very essence of the Effingham. Salty, sweet, with a hint of minerality. It was superb! I couldn’t get enough of it, none of us could. To further improve on this dish, I would actually prefer it in a small bowl so that I may lick it clean.
Third course was a grilled Blue Point oyster with Aleppo butter. Also divine! I probably could’ve eaten a dozen of those if I had the chance!
Next were plates of fried Totten Inlet oysters with shiso, pickled hon shimeji mushrooms and smoked paprika aioli sauce. I think that I’ve had this creation before from Farmerie at a LUCKYRICE tasting a few years ago. Instead of Totten Inlets though, he used Barron Points (which he claimed were his favorite oyster).
The deeper we get into the meal, the heavier the courses become. At this point, the oysters begin to take a backseat to the creation. The roasted boudin noir with East Beach Blonde stuffing was a hearty course, and while I love anything with a poached egg, it was difficult to detect the oyster flavors in the stuffing. Same with the grilled and chilled tuna with baby romaine, green beans, olives and a Cape May Caesar dressing. It was delicious, but didn’t showcase the oyster as well as the earlier courses.
The last course was actually comprised of three dessert items: chocolate & pistachio cake, creme brulee, and a sugar-coated beignet. Total price came to about $90-something after tax/tip were factored in (I didn’t order a separate drink), which I feel is pretty reasonable.