New York | New Year Oyster Crawl Recap + Looking Forward
To start 2015 off right, I decided to organize a city-wide oyster crawl for anyone who wanted to celebrate the new year with good friends and great oysters.
In just under one week's time, I was able to wrangle up 12 official participating restaurants and 220 crawl sign ups. Not too shabby for its first year! Here's the story about its inception, the planning, and most importantly, the crawl itself.
I was inspired to organize the first-ever New York | New Year Oyster Crawl when I learned about my friends' Lauren and Laurence Edelman's very own Jan 1st Oyster Fest tradition. As a chef, Laurence only gets a few holidays off every year. So to make each moment matter, he and his lovely wife decided to spend the first day of every year (for the past six or seven years now) visiting their favorite places to eat oysters. Hopping around a handful of oyster bars on New Year's Day is pretty impressive, considering what typically goes on the night before.
Just Do It
For months, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with the concept. There was a lot to consider -- should I ask people to pay to be on the crawl? Should I sell tickets or build a revenue share program? Should I reach out for beverage partners? Media sponsors? All of the questions about commercialism and monetization started to feel really disingenuous and petty. Kind of a buzzkill, to be honest. So then on Christmas Day, I resolved to just go for it.
The goal was to keep it simple, light and fun. For this first year, I resolved to pull together a list of Oyster Destinations and Special Deals for anyone who wanted in, free of charge. This also proved to be the easiest way to make something happen -- most of my restaurant & oyster friends responded with a lot of support and positivity.
Once the crawl finished, I also received a ton of helpful feedback (thank you) about what worked, what didn't, and what people wanted to see for next year. It would be amazing to grow the event and give it more structure, but my goal would be to still keep it affordable and flexible.
While I couldn't stop by every Crawl Destination, I did my very best to visit what I could. 9 oyster bars in 9 hours has certainly become my new record. Here's a recap of the day...
MAISON PREMIERE / 11:30AM
My strategy for the crawl was to work from the outer boroughs in. Although there was probably no reason to fret, I was concerned that Maison Premiere was going to be packed. (I mean, it usually is.) Fortunately, there were plenty of seats at the oyster bar. My dear friend A joined me for the first dozen of the day. The Oyster Crawl flight was really terrific.
The selection featured Shooting Point Salts (VA), Onsets (MA), European Flats aka Belons (ME), Blackberry Points (PEI), Effinghams (BC), and Steamboats (WA). The assortment expressed a diverse flavor range, which varied from crisp and briny to buttery-sweet to slightly metallic and full of umami.
I was also really giddy when our server asked to see the special Oyster Crawl badge! :)
GREENPOINT FISH & LOBSTER CO / 1:00PM
When A and I left Maison, it had started to snow. This was my first time at Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co and Greenpoint, for that matter. Just like the neighborhood itself, this restaurant and seafood mart was super charming and homey. The village-esque vibe just made you want to talk to everyone around.
I ordered the Oyster Crawl special, which was a flight of half a dozen oysters -- Shigoku (WA), Blackfish Creek Wellfleets (MA), and Montauk Pearls (NY) with three small draft beer pours that were still too large for me to handle without getting the "Asian glow." The Black Duck Porter went quite well with the Shigoku, the Victory Prima Pils complemented the Montauk Pearls, and the aromatic Ballast Point Big Eye IPA made the Blackfish Creek Wellfleet taste super sweet.
GREY LADY / 1:45PM
By the time I had reached my third stop, Grey Lady in the Lower East Side, the snow had turned to sleet. Nothing that a dozen of these Grey Lady Petites couldn't solve. Although the Grey Lady refers to the thick fog in Nantucket, these namesake oysters are from the Damariscotta River, Maine. They were super plump, fruity and all around delicious. Presentation and flawless shucking also helped enhance the tasting.
Randomly bumped into a few groups of people who were on the crawl as well! Before moving onto the next stop, my bartender bestowed upon me the best gift a crawler would ever receive: a big ass golf umbrella. It turned out to be a huge crawl saver.
LIVE BAIT / 2:45PM
After eating so many raw oysters, I felt like I needed to nosh on something more substantial. Fortunately, the specials at Live Bait really hit the spot. A spicy oyster shooter, followed by grilled oysters with smoked bacon, and a crisp oyster po'boy and beer... all for $13. A pretty good bargain, if you ask me.
L&W OYSTER CO / 4:00PM
Walked up to L&W Oyster Co where I met up with some more friends at the bar. L&W were offering a six oyster tasting flight as well. Their platter consisted of a Widow's Hole (NY), Little Shemogues (NB), Glidden Points (ME), Matunuck (RI), Fanny Bay (BC), and Cranberry Creek (WA). The Little Shemogues were not so little, but oh so tasty. Flipping over the shells, I discovered an equally gorgeous sight.
CRAVE FISHBAR / 5:30PM
The seventh stop of the night took me uptown to Crave Fishbar in Midtown East. I caught a taxi with some new oyster friends that I met at L&W. Instead of raw oysters, Crave upped the ante by offering two very unique creations. The first was an Oyster Pickleback, which consisted of one shot of Benchmark Bourbon, followed by a Black Duck Salt Oyster with Apple Mignonette chaser. It was AWESOME. I'd do those all night long if I could.
The second special featured six Black Duck Salt (VA) oysters dressed with a mildly sweet Kabocha squash puree and pistachio nut powder. The chef took care to top just half of each oyster, leaving the other half exposed. This peek-a-boo style was a clever way to give a nod to the oyster itself. While sipping some briny Junmai from Rihaku, these shucks were gone in no time.
VIRGOLA / 6:45PM
Feeling a bit tipsy, I wandered back downtown to Virgola, a secretive sliver of a hideaway on Greenwich Avenue. I sampled the oyster menu of Puffer's Petites (MA), Ichabod Flats (MA), Beach Points (MA), and Montauk Pearls (NY). Although they were really meant to be savored with the brand new Virgola prosecco, I simply couldn't imbibe anymore at the moment. Despite its petite size, Virgola brings back big, joyous memories of my birthday party last year.
FLEX MUSSELS / 7:30PM
Although I enjoyed meeting up with friends at each of the oyster bars, there was something wonderful about exploring them solo. I hadn't been to Flex in quite awhile, so entering this lower level seafood haven felt like the very first time. Their crawl special was a little vague -- a dozen oysters (shucker's choice) and a glass of prosecco for $25 -- but it turned out to be amazing. Shucker's choice? It was more like slurper's choice. I had my pick of the menu, so I selected four Kumamotos (WA), four Shigokus (WA), three Watch Hills (RI), and the very last Wiley Point (ME) of the night.
The perk of sitting at the oyster bar is that you get to watch the magic happen. I was mesmerized by Danielle's shucking skills. Each one that she effortlessly popped open looked pristine. No bellies popped, no shards of oyster shrapnel. Must be the mussel memory. :P In all seriousness, the platter arrived in perfection and one of the Watch Hills was especially jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It was the most beautiful shuck of the night.
By the way, you can't leave Flex without trying their crazy good doughnuts. The salted caramel was divine.
CULL & PISTOL / 9:45PM
Finally, I rushed into a near-empty Chelsea Market for my last fix of the night at Cull & Pistol. I sat in front of the oysters and peered through the glass. A dozen and a Narragansett beer for $20. I selected four Pemaquids (ME), four Watch Hills (RI), and four Barron Points (WA) from the lengthy list. The most notable oyster had to be the monstrous Barron Point. It was about the size of small poached egg, I swear! Super sweet, pillowy, and savory with a slight mineral finish. It was an amazing way to finish an epic night.
Other oyster bars involved that I couldn't get to include: Grand Central Oyster Bar Brooklyn, Bait & Hook, and Flex UES. Thank you to all of the participants, restaurants, and friends for your support and involvement! I can't wait to take the learning from this first round and make the next one even better.
Now I'm off to Thailand for my next oyster adventure...