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. Read More
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.
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.
Happy National Oyster Day! This is my second Oyster Day celebration and I’ve decided to go a bit bigger than last year. Seeing that the holiday is on a Friday, I decided to split my oyster fest into two segments: casual slurping at lunch and a more intense tasting for dinner. Below is a recap of how I celebrated and tips on how to make the most of your celebration.
For lunch, I met up with my buddy Chavelli at Fish, a low-key, neighborhood-y West Village seafood restaurant on Bleecker Street. They have one of the best oyster deals in town: 6 Blue Points plus a glass of wine (red/white) or PBR for $8! If you’re not looking for anything fancy, this deal really hits the spot. Even on their regular menu, the oyster prices are extremely reasonable. While they don’t have a huge selection (3-4 kinds daily), they’re priced at around $2 per piece. That’s what some restaurants charge during happy hour!
After work, my colleague Niyati and I headed down to Aquagrill for a more intense oyster experience. What I love about Aquagrill is that they really deliver on variety and shucking quality. Each piece is always cleanly opened and well presented. There’s no grit that gets in the way of the glorious slurping experience. We were seated at the corner spot at the bar by an open window. @AquagrillNYC happened to be in the house and dropped over to say hello. It was nice to put a face to the Twitter handle!
Niyati pretty much let me do the ordering. I was in the mood to try some new varieties, so we ended up selecting 8 kinds.
When it comes to tasting new oysters, I always order two to make sure that the taste is consistent. I also never use condiments. It’s too difficult to get a true sense of the oyster’s natural flavors when you add lemon or cocktail sauce on top.
Here are the oysters that were ordered and my tasting notes. I’m trying to “standardize” my ratings so that the oysters can be compared to each other. The scale that I’m using is a 10-point one, with 1 being the least intense (e.g., not salty whatsoever) and 10 being the most intense (e.g., extremely flavorful).
Blackberry Point from Northwest Prince Edward Island
Flavor: 6 | Salinity: 8 | Sweetness: 2 | Texture: Saggy, airy
Straightforward, sharp saltiness, thin meat, but clean finish
Conway Cup from Cascumpeque Bay, Prince Edward Island
Flavor: 4 | Salinity: 5 | Sweetness: 4 | Texture: Juicy, soft
Reminds me of raisins — salty and sweet, straightforward and clean finish
Wiley Point from Damariscotta River, Maine
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 5 | Texture: Firm, chewy
Lingering sweetness through the body; crisp, vegetal finish
First Light from Mashpee, Massachusetts
Flavor: 5 | Salinity: 6 | Sweetness: 5 | Texture: Chewy, crisp
Slightly nutty, clean aftertaste; an oyster that is easy to eat a lot of
East Beach Blonde from Charlestown Pond, Rhode Island
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 5 | Texture: Slightly thin, chewy
Earthy and savory tone; cured prosciutto or ham flavors
Komo Guay from Baynes Sound, British Columbia
Flavor: 7 | Salinity: 9 | Sweetness: 3 | Texture: Semi creamy, chewy
Lemon notes, little liquor; hard to get past the saltiness
Deer Creek from South Hood Canal, Washington
Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 3 | Sweetness: 2 | Texture: Ultra creamy
Deep cupped; earthy, minerality in the finish; buttery
Gold Creek from Hood Canal, Washington
Flavor: 4 | Salinity: 2 | Sweetness: 3 | Texture: Soft, ultra creamy
Buttery and crisp; mineral aftertaste that lingers for a long time on back of the tongue
I think from this bunch, I enjoyed the Wiley Point, First Light, and Gold Creeks the most.
So now you’re probably in the mood for some bivalves now right? If you’re a beginner to these mollusks and are wondering how to make the most out of your experience, there are some simple tips:
- Bring a buddy: it’s a lot more fun evaluating oysters with a friend or two. Sometimes you’ll taste very different things!
- Watch them shuck: oysters look exotic enough, but if you are able to watch the shuckers do their magic at the bar, that’s when it becomes really mesmerizing.
- Skip the sauce: don’t be shy about trying the oyster by itself. At restaurants, oysters will always arrive with an entourage of condiments, such as lemon, cocktail sauce, mignonette, or hot sauce. The best way to taste the flavors is by trying it naked (or with nothing on top).
- Look closely: examine the shell and the flesh! You’ll soon realize that not all varieties look the same. You can actually tell quite a lot about the oyster based on its appearance.
- Chew: don’t just swallow the damn thing! Chew the meat to extract the sweetness and unlock hidden flavor complexities.
- Order 3-6 varieties: make sure to sample at least one from each coast; ordering more than 6 varieties at a time might make it confusing to keep track (we ordered 4 types first, followed by another 4).
What are some rituals or rules that you follow while enjoying oysters?