Seattle Oyster Tour
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.