Los Angeles Oyster Crawl
After 5.5 hours of flight time, our pilot came over the intercom with a friendly weather update. 73 degrees, partly cloudy, great visibility. Welcome to Los Angeles! I was totally ready for a week of Southern Californian oyster bliss.
In the fall of 2015, I had the honor of hosting my first-ever West Coast Oyster Omakase at Blue Plate Oysterette and decided to make a work-slash-research-slash-reunion trip out of it. My best friend moved from NYC to Santa Monica earlier that year and we—along with a few other NY-transplanted buddies—were due for some hang out time.
Descending into LAX on a clear day was pretty cool, but walking through the palm trees in Palisades Park during sunset was even more magical. Anne's apartment was literally across the street from a swaying outdoor palm court... lucky girl!
The Oyster Gourmet
For those of you who haven't heard of The Oyster Gourmet, pay attention. Owner and operator Christophe Happillon is the only Master Ecailler in Los Angeles. Ecailler is an old term for oysters in French (they're called huîtres today) and is used as the professional label of seafood specialists in charge of preparing seafood plates, skilled in manipulating and shucking oysters and other shellfish.
As a seasoned pro, Christophe understands the importance of presentation and showmanship when it comes to providing a best-in-class oyster experience. This first becomes immediately apparent when you first come upon the freestanding raw bar at Grand Central Market. The unique design is comprised of several interlocking panels that are operated by a hand crank. It is truly a work of art (see above). Secondly, you won't find a flawed shuck. You just won't.
I returned to the scene a day after the DTLA Oyster Festival to enjoy a much more relaxed experience. I sat down with Christophe to try half a dozen West Coast oysters and a chilled glass of Piquepoul, a variety of grape grown primarily in the Rhône Valley and Languedoc regions of France. That was the first time that I had tried this pairing and I'm a fan!
Blue Plate Oysterette
The next day, I started my Oyster Omakase tasting sessions at Blue Plate Oysterette on West 3rd. There are a few concepts under the Blue Plate Restaurant Group, but this one was perfect for the occasion. It's an East Coast seafood spot with a beachy and chic West Coast vibe.
My first session included local Foodstagrammers such as Corey of @missfoodieproblems, June of @stirandstyle, and Liz of @sushicravings. I had them (and everyone) taste an eclectic variety featuring Blue Pools from Hood Canal, WA, Olympias and Kumamotos from Washington, and Shooting Point from Eastern Shore of VA.
Blue Plate had an excellent roster of West Coast varietals—a few that are hardly ever seen out East. This combined with their "I want to eat everything" menu made me want to set up camp in the back corner booth. Can I live here, please??
Connie & Ted's
Another establishment that several friends encouraged me to try out was Connie & Ted's. I met up with my new colleague Mark, who leads biz dev for Australis on the west coast. There was an explosive oyster menu of both East and West Coast varieties. They had basically everything, including Damariscotta Flats from Maine!
Unfortunately, a few of the oysters were a bit tired and were starting to go funky. The shucking also left a bit to be desired...hence just showing the photo of the shells vs the meats. I wasn't sure if this was the norm (couldn't be, right?) or if the staff just wasn't feeling it that day. Fortunately, the rest of the meal was salvaged by the one of the most delicious Oyster Po'Boy I've ever had. I'll have to give them a second chance.
L&E Oyster Bar
While Anne resides next to the ocean, our friend Stefi is tucked away in the uber-hip hills of Silverlake. Stefi's apartment is a stone's throw away from L&E Oyster Bar, which has a great happy hour special. The upstairs bar offers a mix of East and West Coast oysters on the menu and some of them even carried the grower's name! We ordered a dozen Pacific oysters and I tried the clam chowder. Yum... if I lived here, I'd probably live here.
EMC Seafood & Raw Bar
Weekend brunch rolled around. Stefi and I peeled off from our other girlfriends (Anne wanted vegan, gluten-free, blah blah blah) to dine at EMC Seafood & Raw Bar in Koreatown. Truth be told, I had heard mixed reviews about this place but I just had a feeling they wouldn't disappoint. Our risk paid off! I ended up having a life-changing uni experience at EMC without a life-shattering bill. Big hunking lobes of Santa Barbara uni arrived at our table along with a platter of fresh, respectably shucked oysters and mouthwatering lobster fried rice. For great value and a great brunch, go.
Santa Monica Seafood Market & Cafe
I perched myself at the raw bar counter. My suggestion: if the shucker appears to have the best service area in the house, make sure that you sit squarely in front of them. You're more likely to get good service, shucked oysters, and an interesting conversation. Although I was engaged in conversation with my companion, I still watched my shucker like a hawk... not sure if he noticed, but the oysters came out alright!
The Jolly Oyster
At this point in my adventure, I was craving for a different kind of oyster excursion. So I got into my car and drove up to Malibu and ended up in a parking lot of a small shopping center. Great ocean views, but no oyster bar here. But that's ok. I was rendezvousing with Mark Reynolds the co-founder of The Jolly Oyster, half way between his Ventura location and LA.
Mark had brought a small blue cooler of his goods on ice. Outside a small coffee shop, we began to shuck Kumamotos and his signature product "Jolly Oyster," which is a hybrid that is mostly the Pacific oyster gene but experiences some of the Kumamoto's sweetness. They were all delicious! Super fresh and perfectly sweet.
Mark's story is pretty unique. He's a Brit who discovered a passion for aquaculture and sustainable food systems while studying in Scotland. He met another guy named Mark [Venus] there who shared the same interest. After doing extensive market research, they decided to set up shop in Baja California / Mexico. Today, The Jolly Oyster operates a shellfish hatchery, a couple oyster farms, an online store, retail market, and the premier "Go shuck yourself" experience in Southern California.
I have been known to travel in a manner that may seem somewhat irrational to the normal person. Like that time when I went from NYC to Hong Kong (16-hour non-stop flight) to spend just three days there for the Rugby Sevens. Or that time when I pulled an all-nighter to wait in line at 4AM for the bluefin tuna auction at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. Some experiences are worth the distance and time, and my last stop on my Los Angeles Oyster Crawl was no different.
Ironside Fish & Oyster
Anne and I drove three hours from Santa Monica to San Diego to check out Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar for lunch. The place was starting to fill up for brunch but we managed to grab a high top booth facing the bar. When we passed by the infamous roadsign bulletin board, I had to stop and admire. It is a hallmark of Ironside's charisma and cheekiness. Alongside the daily oyster selection, there's usually some kind of a punny play on a popular hip-hop song. There are too many good ones to count. ("Shuck It Like Its Hot" and "You Used to Call Me On My Shellphone" are probably my two front runners.)
The oysters lured me into Ironside, but the food sealed the deal. Two words: Chowder Fries. It's kind of like poutine, but way better. I'm tempted to try and recreate this at home, but btw: don't try to eat this whole dish on your own. You'll fall into an eternal food coma. The steamed mussels with uni butter toast was also insanity.
Seven oyster bars in seven days... not bad! I shall be back for more, LA, I shall be back. :-)
2017 Addendum: Shuck Oyster Bar
I am enthusiastically adding this entry after returning from a whirlwind video shoot in Orange County in April. Shuck Oyster Bar is an intimate and airy shuckery nestled in the heart of The OC Mix shopping gallery. My friend Jen and I wandered through the maze of stores and finally arrived at Shuck's door. I instantly felt a "best-kept secret" vibe as I walked in. You would never expect to find such an extensive (24+ varieties) and thoughtfully curated list of oysters in the middle of a mall in the OC, but there it was. Sonny, the resident oyster fanatic and partner, organized an impromptu "A-game" tasting flight. We mainly focused on West Coast, but he threw in a few East Coast gems that he also loved. I loved the fact that Sonny knew the details of every oyster like a true Oyster Master! The highlight of the tasting was probably the tumbled Glacier Points from Kachemak Bay, Alaska. I also have to admit that the Sex on the Bay oysters from New Brunswick were pretty delicious as well, despite the eye-rolling name. Next time when I'm in LA, I'm making it a point to drive down to Costa Mesa to relive this exquisite experience.