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Oyster EventsMarch 25, 2012

Ode to the Oyster with Chef Dave Santos

City Grit is New York City's premiere culinary salon -- essentially a supper club, but cooler. This month featured several dinners designed by Chef Dave Santos. The chef graciously invited me to his Ode to the Oyster feast several weeks ago, which showcased a five-course tasting of historic oyster dishes with a modern twist (plus an 'oyster-themed' dessert).

City Grit Culinary Salon

City Grit is a wonderful venue and I hope that I can persuade you to check out their offerings. Co-founder Jeremie Kittredge ran the “front of the house,” while Chef  Dave Santos kept busy in the underground schoolhouse kitchen. Meanwhile the culinary club’s founding chef, FOOD&WINE Home Cook Extraordinaire Sarah Simmons, was away at SXSW having a grand old time collecting elusive Foursquare badges (not that I’m jealous or anything.)

Before the commencement of the dinner, Chef Santos popped out of the dungeon to give an energetic and detailed overview of the journey ahead. It was one about the long-enduring oyster cuisine that incorporated his Portuguese influences. Needless to say, he embraces and materializes his heritage wholeheartedly. Despite having a lot of love for oysters, Chef Santos grew up in a region of Portugal where oysters weren’t prominent in the culinary culture. He could’ve fooled me! The integration of the oyster in these dishes were marvelously crafted. The collaboration of two ends was a hit.

We started off with a delicate amuse (not pictured here, but on Flickr) of Elderflower-cured Sea Trout with oyster-absinthe gel. After an absinthe and oyster pairing experiment at Maison Premiere from a long time ago, I had concluded that those two things did not go well together. Surprisingly, Santos has proven me wrong! The flavors actually do well together if their intensities are on par. Drinking absinthe while slurping oysters I feel may be still too overpowering.

Wild Deepwater Wellfleets  Pickled Oyster & Pork Belly Salad

The second course was a plate of three raw oysters — Wild Deepwater Wellfleets from Massachusetts that live in 60 feet of water or more. Wellfleets is a classic East Coast oysters with punchy brininess, a crisp sweet finish, and firm meat. These deepwater varieties delivers on the same profile — high on salinity, with a dash of minerality. They decently meaty, but certainly not fat. For wild oysters, these Wellfleet shells were surprisingly manicured.

Next up: Pickled Giant Peale Passage oysters from Washington in a Pork Belly Salad with onion fondue, arugula, and red cabbage. This course was probably my favorite of the night. The oysters were thoroughly marinated in tangy pickling juices, making them almost take on the brininess of an East Coast oyster! The soft meat complimented well with the crispy pork belly, and the greens helped cut through the richness.

Oyster Stew

The fourth course was an Oyster Stew made with Salt Pond Oysters from Rhode Island, smoked paprika oil and celery leaves. The creamy butter-colored broth was carefully poured over the celery at the table. The rich, heart-warming stew was one of those things that you’d crave after a rainy or otherwise shitty day. Unfortunately there were no actual pieces of oysters in the stew. It could’ve been easily enhanced with some real oyster meat, giving it more of that great chewy texture that I love.

Oyster Po Boy  "NY Cheesecake" with Oyster Cracker Crumble

The fifth course was a fried Oyster Po Boy made with select Louisiana bayou oysters, accessorized with Portuguese potatoes, spiced tomato marmalade, and pickled red onion. I have yet experience a raw Gulf oyster, but can safely say that they’re great when fried! I really enjoyed the casual elegance of this dish. For oyster newbies, it’s an approachable way to get into the shellfish.

Lastly for dessert we had a “New York Cheesecake” with oyster cracker crumble and poppyseed meringue. Clever, clever! It’s probably my second all-time favorite oyster-themed dessert, coming after the chocolate oyster from Lure. The “cake” was also a bit more like pudding, but nonetheless delicious.

Chef Santos Perfecting  Pour

Here’s to another memorable oyster dinner for the books. Oysters or not, I highly suggest you give City Grit — and Chef Santos’ own supper club Um Segredo — a try! Besides experiencing new flavors and cuisines, it’s also a wonderful way to meet new people. I swear they need to make a dating service revolved solely around food… it’s such a no brainer.

Oyster EventsAugust 5, 2011

How to Celebrate National Oyster Day

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.

6 Blue Points & PBR for $8 at Fish

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!

A Dozen Oysters at Aquagrill

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.

Aquagrill National Oyster Day Menu

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? 

Oyster EventsApril 10, 2011

South Street Oyster Saloon

The South Street Oyster Saloon did quite well to achieve the New Amsterdam Market's fundraising goals--in fact, almost too well...

  
  
  
  

Tickets were completely sold out in advance of the big day, causing massive lines and bottlenecks the day of, and most oyster offerings were entirely wiped out mid-way through the event. We were so flustered by the raw crowds that we splurged our last seven tickets on Oyster Rockefellers.

After the first round of beers, it was impossible to obtain another due to the queue. To be fair, this still wasn’t nearly as bad as the NYC Brew Fail Fest, according to a reliable source.

Most of the oysters that I did manage to elbow my way in for were pretty good! A slew of un-branded Virginia oysters were the first to be explored–the one that stood out the most to me was the first variety from the Upper Western Shore of the Chesapeake. The real gems were kept secret in the back. There were stacks of Olympia oysters, plump and sweet Effinghams, Quonset Points, and Cape May Salts. I couldn’t believe that there were so many Oly’s around and no one seemed to appreciate them!

My recommendation for next year: sell 25% less tickets, offer up 25% more beer. The numbers, people, and overall happiness level will then be optimized.

Oyster EventsAugust 27, 2010

East Coast Oyster Festivals This Fall

Summer may almost be over, but the party has just begun! Fun-filled oyster festivals will take place up and down the East Coast from September through November.

A Box of OystersEnjoying a Beautiful Wednesday Night

These festivals typically feature live music, tons of shellfish eating, shucking contests, and tasty adult beverages. To my knowledge, there is only one oyster festival that occurs in Manhattan—the Stone Street Oyster Festival at Ulysses’—which I have consistently been out of town for. If you love to eat oysters and party, make it a point to go! Alternatively, you can take a picturesque road trip out to another party in a nearby state. Below is a fairly comprehensive (and diverse) list of East Coast oyster festivals for your enjoyment:

Norwalk Seaport Oyster Festival
Sept 10th-12th, 2010 at Norwalk’s Veterans Memorial Park, CT
General admission: $5-$10 | Weekend pass: $18
Family-friendly fun, a variety of activities to please everyone (from BMX stunt show to BBQ Pit, pirate adventure program to oyster touch tank).
Visit the site | buy tickets | discounts via MTA | reviews

Island Creek Oyster Festival
Sept 11th, 2010 at Duxbury Beach Park, MA
General admission: $50, VIP: $150
Sample dishes prepared by over a dozen of Boston’s best chefs, live music, family-friendly kids’ zone.
Visit the site | buy tickets | volunteer

Asbury Park Oyster Festival
Sept 11th-12th, 2010 on Cookman Ave in Asbury Park, NJ
General admission: free
25+ live bands, rides, craft vendors, and kid-friendly activities.
Visit the site

Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival
Sept 17th-19th, 2010 in Charlottetown, PE Canada
General admission: $8.50
Considered to be the “Biggest Kitchen Party in Atlantic Canada,” this event boasts good friends, good times, good music and lots of world famous PEI shellfish!
Visit the site | buy tickets | volunteer

Stone Street Oyster Festival
Sept 25th, 2010 at Ulysses’ in the Financial District, NYC
General admission: free
Enjoy oysters, beer and live music with this more grown-up crowd.
Visit the site

Pemaquid Oyster Festival
Sept 26th, 2010 at Schooner Landing Restaurant & Marina in Damariscotta, ME
General admission: free
A smaller, more peaceful gathering of oyster eating and mingling along the water.
Visit a blog post

Chincoteague Island Oyster Festival
Oct 9th, 2010 at Maddox Family Campground in Chincoteague Island, VA
General admission: $40
Plenty of oyster on the half shell, steamed, single fried, fritters, clam chowder, clam fritters, steamed crabs, cole slaw, potato salad, hush puppies, hot dogs, Pepsi.  Yum!
Visit the site | buy tickets

Long Island Oyster Festival
Oct 16th-17th, 2010 at the Waterfront at Theodore Roosevelt Park in Oyster Bay, NY
General admission: free
Over 200,000 visitors, live entertainment, shucking contests, massive food court, tall ships, and pirates.
Visit the site

St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival
Oct 16th-17th, 2010 in St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds, MD
General admission: $5
Competition is alive and well here with multi-round shucking competitions and a national oyster cook-off.
Visit the site

Urbanna Oyster Festival
Nov 5th-7th, 2010 in Urbanna, VA
General admission: free (parking: $10-20)
Over fifty food vendors, a couple parades, cruises, dancing, and live music.
Visit the site

Oyster EventsAugust 5, 2010

Happy National Oyster Day!

To celebrate National Oyster Day, I had some delicious Blue Point oysters poached in savory lobster broth, wrapped in braised leeks, and topped with American Sturgeon caviar at The Mermaid Inn UWS.

Poached Blue Point Oysters wrapped in lettuce, topped with lobster sauce and American Sturgeon Caviar

This was one of their special appetizers for National Oyster Day, only available on the UWS. I loved the crunchiness of the leek against the soft, squishy oyster. When cooked, the oyster’s salty taste evolves into a rich, earthy deliciousness. The lobster broth and caviar were like the chocolate syrup and sprinkles on top of the sundae. This totally made my otherwise dreary and muggy day one worth remembering.

It is strange to me that National Oyster Day occurs in August, a month that doesn’t scream great oysters. But strangely, most people associate summer with raw shellfish—a delicacy that screams for ice and cool climates. In France, the most popular time to eat oysters is Christmastime, when the meats are super plump and sweet. Knowing how to open an oyster is as fundamental as knowing how to open a bottle of wine. Why can’t we, as Americans, be more in tuned with the seasonalities of our foods?