A Week in the Life of an Oysterholic
Two Tuesdays Ago: I downed at least two dozen Kumamoto oysters at The Mussel Pot with my friend Siwat.
It was the dollar special of the night, which made it impossible to eat in moderation. I really liked how they were served with lime wedges instead of lemon.
It is impossible to hate the Kumamoto. These Japanese-native oysters are consistently creamy, sweet, and infused with melon-cucumber flavors. They are the perfect size for beginners, but are interesting enough to keep veterans guessing. US Kumamotos are grown in either California (Humboldt Bay) or Washington (South Puget Sound). I prefer them from California's Humboldt Bay because they tend to be sweeter and more earthy.
Last Tuesday: Met up with some socialmedia gal pals for dinner at the new Ed's Lobster Bar Annex on Clinton Street.
They had their Tuesday $2 oyster special across a selection of five, so we ordered three of each. Beausoleils from New Brunswick, Cape Blues from Maine, Malpeques from PEI, Rappahannocks from Virginia, and Stingrays from Virginia. Chef Edward McFarland is an East Coast kind of guy, so it was only fitting that this was an all East Coast oysters kind of joint. Most, if not all of the chefs that I've met in NYC prefer East Coast oysters to their West Coast rivals. I'm curious to see if the pattern is flip-flopped on the other side.
My favorite of the bunch was the Rappahannock, which was a pleasant surprise. Just a month ago, I had ultra mild Rapps at The Mermaid Oyster Bar. This time, they were much saltier, juicier, and sweeter. It's amazing how much the environment plays into the taste of the oysters. On the flip side, I'm also a huge fan of Maine oysters' briny and firm meat. Cape Blues definitely delivered on the brininess, but they weren't as firm as, say, a Pemaquid or a Glidden Point.
Chewiness is next to deliciousness in my book. It doesn't just apply to oysters either--give me chewy calamari, chewy beef tendon, chewy granola bars and I'm all set. Plus, chewing down on oysters also plays a vital role in releasing its flavors. As you crunch down on the glycogen, the meat becomes progressively sweeter. I guarantee you that a good percentage of oyster "haters" dislike these amazing mollusks because they were too chicken shit to really chew down on the meat. Swallowing them whole is not advisable for a good time.
In addition to the oysters at Ed's, we also tried a slew of savory snacks including the Seafood Salad, Lobster Ravioli (amazing), Lobster Meatballs, and mini Lobster Rolls. More photos from the meal can be found on Flickr.
Last Wednesday: Met up with my college friend Ranie at DBGB Kitchen + Bar before dinner at The Modern for some oysters and beer.
Well, I didn't drink. I just enjoyed some oysters at the bar and got crap from one of the bartenders (all in jest, of course). We ordered a round of Wild Goose oysters from Rhode Island, Island Creeks from Massachusetts, and (Totten) Virginicas from Washington. Okay, here's a question for the grammar experts: When referring to multiple Wild Goose oysters, should one refer to them as Wild Gooses or Wild Geese? Regardless, they were quite tasty. They had a punchy mollusk musk to them that could have done very well against a hoppy beer.
The Island Creeks weren't at their best, unfortunately. They weren't as meaty, complex, or flavorful as they usually are. Meanwhile, the Totten Virginicas were large and in charge. It is an East Coast oyster that has been transplanted into West Coast waters. The result? Briny, sweet, supple, metallic, creamy, and divine. The best of both worlds--a truly cosmopolitan oyster. Oyster expert and author Rowan Jacobsen rated them a solid 10 a few years ago during an oyster tasting competition.
Ranie and I spent a good 10 minutes arguing the virtues and vices of condiments (particularly when added on oysters). It was futile to persuade her that you don't need to add lemon, cocktail sauce, AND mignonette to the oyster. If they were a dozen Blue Point dollar specials, I wouldn't care as much. But it made me terribly sad to see her plop all of this on to the Totten Virginicas. (Just giving you a hard time, bottlecap!)
Last Thursday: Dollar oysters with a friend (and former colleague) who's departing NYC for peachy Georgia at The Mermaid Oyster Bar.
I love doing impromptu oyster tastings with friends who are interested in the subject, but know very little about it. It gives me great happiness to explain the why's, what's, how's, and who's of the oyster kingdom. It's even more of an elation when I get to discover something great right alongside them. The dollar specials at The Mermaid Oyster Bar have been decent in the past, but nothing like this time. The East Coast variety was the Sewansecott from Virginia and the West Coast was Peale Passage fro Washington.
Dear Sewansecotts: where have you been all my life? (The gang at Go Shuck an Oyster were enlightened over a year ago.) Although this is just my first encounter, I'm eager to claim them as a new favorite. I was going to tack on, "from Virginia," but these might just rival the more popular gems of the Northeast. Guess I'll have to do a side-by-side comparison to be sure... They are ultra flavorful, a perfect balance of sweet and salty, and deliciously chewy. Just writing about this makes me crave for more.
Peale Passage oysters from the Puget Sound in Washington also had a mighty presence on the platter. They were exceptionally creamy, with metallic soybean flavor. I keep imagining edamame that play in a heavy metal band.
Last Friday: Flew to Chicago for Labor Day weekend to hang out with friends, listen to great music, eat and drink. After a couple amazing craft beers at Clark Street Ale House, Bryan and I headed over to GT Fish & Oyster for a late dinner.
On the raw bar menu, they had Clevedon Coasts from New Zealand. That stopped me dead in my tracks. I haven't had those since I was in Hong Kong last winter! I HAD to order them. We also did a handful of Sunset Beaches from Hood Canal, Washington and Katama Bays from Martha's Vineyard.
First of all, it's damn tough to find oysters outside of North America in North America due to federal trade regulations. So I was really excited to find New Zealand's Clevedon Coasts on the menu. My two cents: oysters from Tasmania and New Zealand are AWESOME. They are large, creamy, and full of intricate flavors. It's definitely something in the water. In fact, all of the oysters that we tried at GT were pretty amazing. Sunset Beaches were very creamy, high in zinc, and seaweed notes. The Katama Bays were clean, crisp, briny and buttery. There was a great earthy, vegetal aftertaste that signaled its MV heritage (I love Martha Vineyard oysters).
The food at GT was remarkable and noteworthy. We tried the Foie Gras and Shrimp Terrine, Grilled Octopus and Watermelon, Oyster Po'Boy Sliders with Kimchi slaw, and a Cheesecake Panna Cotta. Unfortunately, it was way too dark to take photos--I wish I had though. The food was plated beautifully. The flavor combinations were also quite creative. Mostly familiar, yet each had its own unique twist. I'd definitely return again for more.
One last note: GT has a fantastic mignonette. It involves ponzu juice, which gives it a refreshing, citrusy kick. Of course, I didn't put it on the oysters that I tried... but Bryan did (and enjoyed them). Gotta save that one in my own recipe book for later. It should go well with West Coast oysters.
Labor Day Monday: After a day-long jaunt around Millennium Park and The Art Institute of Chicago, I reinvigorated myself with some oysters with caviar and wasabi gelee at The Gage.
It was a beautiful and sunny Labor Day. We took many photos at DAAA BEEEAN and spent hours wandering the corridors of The Art Instititue. Around 4PM my hunger started to kick in, so I took Foursquare up on its suggestion to check out The Gage. There was a raw oyster appetizer on the menu consisted of half a dozen oysters topped with green caviar and wasabi gelee for $15.
Pretty good deal for the price. The oysters featured included the Naked Cowboy from Long Island Sound, Kumamotos from Washington, and Eagle Rocks from Totten Inlet, Washington. Kumo aside, they were all pretty petite oysters.
I was a little disappointed when the oysters came out with the toppings already in place. It was hard to distinguish what the oyster's true flavor (and quality) were. Nonetheless, the caviar and gelee complimented the oysters quite nicely. Beyond that, it was also totally BAFFLING why this dish came out with a pot of cocktail sauce. My only question is: Why??? Would've made a little more sense if it were mignonette sauce or lemon wedges.
Food at The Gage was hearty--well suited for sharing. Homemade sausages, poached shrimp, and Scotch eggs... A long walk was definitely appropriate before or after the meal.
Number of Oysters Consumed: Five dozen-ish (~60) Number of Oyster Varieties Consumed: 16 Number of New Oyster Varieties Discovered: 6 Favorite Discovery: Sewansecott Favorite Re-Discovery: Clevedon Coast Favorite East Coasts: Sewansecott, Katama Bay Favorite West Coasts: Peale Passage, Totten Virginica
Brand New Taste Profiles
Cape Blue from Hog Island, Maine * * * Enjoyed at Ed's Lobster Bar Annex on 8.30.11 Flavor: 6 | Salinity: 8 | Sweetness: 3 | Umami: 2 | Texture: Slightly chewy, soft Straightforward brininess, but lacks in complexity and the "chewy" factor that I so thoroughly enjoy in Maine oysters
Stingray from Mobjack Bay, Virginia * * Enjoyed at Ed's Lobster Bar Annex on 8.30.11 Flavor: 4 | Salinity: 2 | Sweetness: 2 | Umami: 3 | Texture: Mildly creamy, slightly plump Soy sauce flavors, very low salinity, slightly brackish/bitter water flavors
Wild Goose from Rhode Island * * * Enjoyed at DBGB Kitchen + Bar on 8.31.11 Flavor: 5 | Salinity: 2 | Sweetness: 3 | Umami: 3 | Texture: Medium-firmness, slightly plump The liquor was slightly saltier than the meat, which had a deliciously punchy mollusk-y taste to it (imagine eating escargot)
Sewansecott from Great Machipongo River, Virginia * * * * * Enjoyed at The Mermaid Oyster Bar on 9.1.11 Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 5 | Umami: 7 | Texture: Chewy, long, plump Extremely flavorful, balanced sweet/saltiness, crisp, and has a deliciously silky texture
Sunset Beach from Hood Canal, Washington * * * Enjoyed at GT Fish & Oyster on 9.5.11 Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 4 | Umami: 7 | Texture: Ultra creamy Potent in zinc (taste lingers in the back of your mouth) that is almost overpowering and light sea spray and seaweed notes
Peale Passage from Puget Sound, Washington * * * * Enjoyed at The Mermaid Oyster Bar on 9.1.11 Flavor: 8 | Salinity: 7 | Sweetness: 4 | Umami: 7 | Texture: Ultra creamy Metallic, soybean flavors, a burst of iron/zinc notes at the nose