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Oyster ReviewsJune 19, 2016

Southern Charm With a Twist: Oyster Gifts from the Gulf

Happy Father’s Day, friends! I’m sitting outside on my parents’ deck right now overlooking a forest of trees, listening to the gentle rustle of their leaves and sleepy-sounding songbirds. It’s a perfect summer day. To keep the good stuff going, I thought I’d take a moment to share a couple of my favorite new discoveries from the Gulf: Massacre Island Oysters (AL) and Sally Bynum Anzelmo‘s (LA) gorgeous oyster-themed paintings and glassware.

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Massacre Island Oysters

A few weeks ago, a box of Massacre Island Oysters landed on my doorstep. They were sent by Chris Nelson from Bon Secour Fisheries, who insisted that I had to try these out. First of all, I’m going to be honest and admit that I don’t accept oysters from just anyone, nor freely write about every new oyster that I try. But after shucking a few open and savoring them, I knew that I had experienced something special.

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Oyster ReviewsJuly 14, 2015

There’s More Than Just Oysters at St. Roch Market’s Curious Oyster Co

When I visited New Orleans for the first time last year, I was completely blown away by the oystering history and culinary traditions of Louisiana. New Orleanians take oyster love to a whole new level, and amazingly, it’s been only getting better. Enter: Curious Oyster Co, a brilliant new raw bar in St. Roch Market.

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Late last month, I had the opportunity to revisit New Orleans and speak at the Sustainable Seafood Blog Conference (which I’ll write more about later). I decided to arrive a few days early to explore.

The Curious Oyster Company is one of the founding vendors housed in the newly revitalized St. Roch Market in the Bywater District. The 6,800 square-foot food hall reopened in April 2015 with 13 individual vendors representing a diverse spectrum of coastal and local foods. It took a long time to turn this concept into a reality, and Melissa Martin and Effie Michot, the co-founders of Mosquito Supper Club, knew that they wanted to be part St. Roch’s historic comeback. Melissa’s grandfather was an oysterman and opening an oyster bar was something that she’s always wanted to do.

The Revival of St. Roch Market

St. Roch Market was originally built in 1875 as an open-air food market. It underwent several ups and downs before being abandoned after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The building received a $3.7 million gut renovation in 2012 and the master lease was awarded to Bayou Secret, an entrepreneurial group with a hopeful vision for the space and the community it serves. “After several months working with the neighborhoods, we’ve formulated a plan to create an entrepreneurial hub for community development, provide affordable food options, and educational resources for the St. Roch community.” (source: Nola.com)

Upon arriving to Louis Armstrong International Airport, I rented a car* and made a beeline for this exciting new food destination.


First Impressions

As I walked into the market, I was immediately greeted by a vibrant array of crisp, local produce, aromatic cheeses, and meats. I peer upwards and took in the openness of the space — the sky-high ceilings, bright white columns, and exquisite marble countertops imparted a heavenly aura. After meandering past the different stalls showcasing charcuterie, pastries and artisanal sodas, I eventually arrived in front of the intimate six-seat raw bar. Their lovely hand-illustrated logo hung prominently on the back wall. The whimsical “The Curious Oyster Co” lettering was paired with a voluptuous Aphrodite perched atop a scallop shell, who was looking on with a hungry gleam in her eye.

Co-owner Melissa Martin and Mosquito Supper Club-alum Ellis were busy prepping for the lunch crowd. I had commented on their Instagram just hours earlier about visiting, but I don’t think either of them had any idea that I would literally pop up on a random Wednesday afternoon. Surprise! Nor were they expecting a photography crew from Southern Living Magazine to drop by at the same time to shoot. Double surprise! Our joint presence transformed the photogenic oyster stall into food-paparazzi central for a couple of hours.

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The 33 Oyster Club

I introduced myself and my eye was immediately drawn to the line of 33 Oysters on the Half Shell books clipped to a line using clothespins. Over half of the pocket books had names scribbled prominently over the covers. This got me really excited for a few reasons: 1) Curious Oyster Co recently started a 33 Oysters Club, which offers guests an opportunity to sample 33 different oysters for $50 plus a keepsake tasting journal and 2) they are the first raw bar that decided to use my new 33 Oysters journal as their official oyster passport. Hooray! It’s kind of surreal seeing a tangible object that you helped create being used out in the real world.

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It’s All Good

The one-sheet menu consisted of five distinct sections: oysters, soup, snacks, salads, and a smoked fish plate. Frankly, everything looked so good that expert recommendations were much needed. Ellis suggested the poached shrimp in olive oil, cracked crab claws, and the boquerone salad, all of which I absolutely had to said yes to. I also ordered four local Louisiana oysters along with a couple other East Coast and West Coast options. This was a pretty ambitious lunch for one, but it’s not everyday that I’m in New Orleans!

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As I waited for the feast to commence, Melissa sent over a sneak preview of the locally caught and poached shrimp. The tangy, crisp onion, salty capers, and herbs on the shrimps were amazing. Serious wow moment. This dish was at once refreshing and satiating. It really hit the spot — I couldn’t stop eating them. The full-sized snack contained enough shrimp to share amongst a party of two or three (I’d estimate like 10-12 pieces in total?), but I would have a hard time keeping to my fair share.

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The cracked crab claws arrived next. Again, the serving size was generous enough to satisfy a small group… buuut I would rather just order one for myself. Each petite chilled claw contained a firm nugget of sweet and spicy crab meat. The marinade — a mixture using Steen’s Cane Vinegar — was sublime. This open-clawed crab snack felt like a novelty, but I learned that it’s actually quite popular in the gulf. Two other well-reputed restaurants that I visited on this trip featured the same thing, but I’ve concluded that Curious Oyster Co delivers the best version, hands down.

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The last non-oyster dish to arrive was a colorful boquerone salad garnished with salt cured yolk shavings. Umami bomb central. The fresh bibb lettuce, radish, tomato and parmesan really helped support the intensity of the vinegar-laced anchovies and egg. Balancing acidity and savoriness is something that the Curious Oyster Co has really mastered. I’m not sure why cured yolks aren’t grated over dishes more often, but it’s got me thinking about how to up my congee game moving forward…

OH. Last, but not least (before we get to the oysters), I need to talk about the house butter. It’s not just like any butter. It’s cane syrup-infused butter. Which means it’s like where-have-you-been-all-my-life butter. Steen’s Cane Syrup is a renowned southern cuisine staple, but this was the first time that I’ve ever encountered it. Mixing it into a high quality French Beurre de Baratte is guaranteed to please. I definitely ate too much of it. Way too much.

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A Curious Oyster Tasting

Finally, let’s talk about their oyster game. That’s what I came for, after all. Curious Oyster Co typically features around nine different oyster varieties from the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts. On the day when I arrived, they had four. Limited variety and distribution options are two challenges that the team faces on a regular basis, which is a shame because it kind of prevents them from truly living out their namesake. Curiosity and adventure is what this restaurant and the entire market is about. I’m confident that more oyster options will open up to them in the future.

Ellis isn’t usually the one behind the raw bar, but I suppose it was my lucky day. Using the traditional long-bladed oyster knife and oyster holder, he was able to pop a dozen open in no time. The shucking was pretty impressive. No grit or gashed bellies. No flipping either.

St. Bernard (LA Area 3) from Captain Johnny Smith
Salinity: 1 | Sweetness: 3 | Complexity: 2 | Size: 3-4 inch

For local oysters, they were surprisingly petite. Normally, these local oysters are 2-3 times as large! The salinity was very, very mild, but the meat had a bright and buttery flavor. I’ve discovered that I personally don’t mind spawny oysters (up to a certain size), and these were just around that border.

Baynes Sound from British Columbia
Salinity: 5 | Sweetness: 5 | Complexity: 4 | Size: 3-4 inch

It’s unfortunately difficult to know for sure where these oysters came from, but wherever they’re from, mother nature (and the grower) did a great job. The supple, fleshy meat had just the right amount of chewiness and potency. The bold herbaceous, seaweed flavors rolled across my palate like a fine broth, and it ended with an ultra sweet finish. After the first two, I had to order another two. Perhaps one of the best PNW oysters I’ve had in awhile! Melissa and Ellis seemed to agree.

James River from Virginia
Salinity: 1 | Sweetness: 2 | Complexity: 2 | Size: 3-4 inch

Meaty and mild, these oysters were comparable to the Louisiana St. Bernard’s. But as I revisited my tasting notes in my own personal 33 Oyster journal, I can tell you that they were more earthy, nutty than the Louisiana oysters, and possessed a much cleaner finish.

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My visit to the Curious Oyster Co was completed by a surprise visit from 33 Oyster Club member and cocktail chef Abigail Gullo of SoBou! As a former, but secretly forever-NYC gal (I mean, her Twitter handle is @NYCBaby for goodness sakes), we hit it off immediately. Abigail gave me the scoop on where to go in NOLA and which BK bars to hit up.

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All and all, this was the perfect way to start off any visit to New Orleans. The St. Roch Market has something for everyone, and especially if you’re a curious oyster lover. Just make sure to come hungry and you’ll leave happy. Sharing is optional.

Curious Oyster Co

St. Roch Market
2381 St Claude Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70117
(504) 408-2080

*A word on car rentals…

Renting a car might not sound like a big deal to any of you, but it was a momentous occasion for me. Having dwelled in Manhattan for over nine years, I’ve become pretty accustomed taking public transportation, taxis and Ubers everywhere. Although I still hold an active driver’s license, my comfort zone was definitely confined to the back and passenger seats. Being forced to drive on my own, while navigating an unfamiliar city, was something that I had not done in over 5 years. Thankfully, Google Maps and my muscle memory performed surprisingly well. I only ran one red light, unintentionally of course.

Oyster ReviewsFebruary 12, 2015

Video Review: Bar Harbor Maine Oysters

This week I received a box of some brand new oysters on the market from Bar Harbor, Maine. These oysters were grown by Mount Desert Island Oysters LLC. They are absolutely remarkable.

To capture this exciting event in all its glory, I decided to do a spontaneous oyster video review of my immediate impressions. Sometimes, you just gotta do more than a few photos and description!

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But of course, I still had to take a few shots of the tasting setup. As you can see above, I’ve got my Simply Shuck oyster tray, my Littledeer Half Sheller, Shuckerpaddy knife, and steel-mesh glove (a Christmas gift from my hubby!).

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Oyster Review Video

Grow Out Method

Seed oysters are first raised in upwellers in Somesville, ME until they are large enough to be set out into the open water. Three techniques are employed in two different growing environments: a shallow, subtidal hard bottom in Western Bay, and an intertidal soft bottom in Goose Cove. They employ a few methods to diversify their oyster portfolio and help create a rich, complex flavor profile. Tom and team harvest only by hand and employ no power washing equipment. The constant “wave action” helps the oysters clean themselves. Of course, there’s a lot more to this process, and if you’re curious, head over to their Facebook page to learn more!

Many thanks to Tom Atherton for sending these over to me!
All feedback and opinions are my own.

Oyster ReviewsDecember 23, 2013

10 Most Memorable Oyster Slurps of 2013

Happy Holidays! As 2013 comes to a close, I thought it would be fun to look back and revisit some of my favorite oyster moments of this year. These were my top 10 most memorable slurps.

Race Rock Oysters from Peconic Bay, NY

#10 Race Rock Oysters from Peconic Bay, NY at Cull & Pistol

Although I’ve heard of this phenomenon, it was the first time that I had ever encountered a greenish-blueish-gilled oyster. These Race Rocks from the Peconic Bay, Long Island were quite a novelty. The color comes from the algae they eat (sort of like how Flamingo’s turn pink when they eat pink shrimp). Flavor-wise, it tasted like Green Eggs and Ham. Just kidding. They were briny, buttery, and had a hint of minerality. Thanks Chef Dave Seigal for introducing me to them!

 

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#9 Pleasure House Oysters from Lynnhaven River, VA

Oysters are a feast of the eyes as well as the tastebuds. If this isn’t oyster porn, I don’t know what is. Also rather appropriate for an oyster with such a scandalous-sounding name (although I assure you that the association is quite PG). These plump gems were fantastic. Ultra fresh, sweet and salty. I couldn’t get enough of them and neither could my coworkers. Pleasure House Oysters only harvests 1200 a week, so many thanks to grower/co-owner Chris Ludford for sending me a batch. Read the entry.

 

4 Species of Oysters at Shuck Easy

#8 Four species oyster tasting at New York Oyster Week

In my many years of oyster blogging, I’ve only come across the complete tasting of the 5 species of North America once. Kevin Joseph of New York Oyster Week almost managed to collect them all for his premiere Shuck Easy event. There was the o. edulis (European Flat/Belon), c. gigas (Pacific), c. virginica (Eastern Native) and c. sikamea (Kumamoto). The only one missing was the West Coast native: o. lurida (Olympia). They’re usually pretty hard to get on the East Coast though, so no biggie. While almost everyone else went for the Kumo’s, I had a field day with the Damariscotta Belons. They are probably the most underrated oyster out there.

 

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#7 Kusshi from British Columbia with Crème fraîche & caviar at Oyster Nosh

Kusshi’s are already little nuggets of pure happiness. The name is so cute (it means “precious” in Japanese) and the shape kind of reminds you of a truffle. So at that rate, why not top it off with some ridiculous decadence? I learned this move from a restaurant up in Maine a few years ago, although they also doused theirs in vodka. Needless to say, these were amazing and everyone’s favorite. I hope I’ll be invited back to Niyati’s 2nd Annual Oyster Nosh next year 😉 Read the entry.

 

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#6 Stellar Bays from British Columbia at my engagement party

So speaking of the Kusshi, Stellar Bays are their bivalve 1-up. They are basically larger Kusshi’s (same deep cup), and are totally out of this world. Plump, sweet, crisp and clean… They were the perfect treat at our casual backyard engagement party. Friends still talk about them to this day! Many thanks to W&T Seafood for the hook up. Read the entry.

 

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#5 New Jersey oysters at Sustainable Seafood Week NYC

At the Oysters, Clams & Cocktails Benefit during Sustainable Seafood Week NYC, I got to try four new varieties of New Jersey oysters. Who knew Jersey had such amazing oysters?? It’s not the first thing you think about, right? Well I was certainly blown away by the briny Mantoloking oyster from Forty North Oyster Farm, as well as the Graveling Point oyster from Maxwell Shellfish. Read the entry.

 

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#4 New Zealand Oyster Tasting at Waterbar in San Francisco, CA

It’s not everyday you find a New Zealand oyster on an American menu, let alone three varieties. Before heading to Napa, we got a chance to check out Waterbar along the Embarcadero in SF. They had a special three New Zealand oyster tasting: Coromandel, Clevedon Coast, and Kaipara (brand new to me). Some of my favorite oysters are from Tasmania and these toothsome Kiwi bivalves could be a close second. Read the entry.

 

#3 Maine Oyster Tasting at Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, ME

I’m kind of obsessed with Maine oysters… and Maine in general for that matter (getting married there in May!) So when we had the chance to visit Eventide, I was like a kid going to Disneyland. Then I got even more pumped about being able to explore five different Maine oysters in one go (Eventide had at least 7 or 8 varieties on the menu). We arrived at the oyster bar in the nick of time — this place fills up insanely quick in the afternoon. The John’s Rivers and Pemaquids were some of the finest I’ve had on the East Coast. Happy sigh! Read the entry.

 

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#2 Hog Island Sweetwaters at the Hog Island Oyster Farm in Marshall, CA

My oyster journey more or less began at the Hog Island Oyster Bar in SF’s Ferry Building back in 2009 and this year, I’ve come full circle by shucking my own oysters at the Hog Island Oyster Farm. There’s something about these Sweetwaters that’s life changing. Having them to the view of Tomales Bay also seals the deal. I have a silly (but potentially not too ridiculous) theory: where there’s good cattle grazing, there are good oysters. Maybe the nutrient-high run-off makes the oysters extra sweet. But if you take that thought one moo further… well, don’t think about it. Anyway, I don’t know why more people haven’t done the merroir & terroir tour out of San Francisco. Sonoma and Napa are literally a little over an hour away. It’s the perfect food-centric road trip. That’s a free business idea for someone. Read the entry.

 

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#1 Kelly Galway Natives and Rock Oysters in Galway Bay, Ireland

The crème de la crème oyster experience of this year was my trip out to Ireland, where I had the amazing opportunity to visit several oyster farms on the West Coast of the country, as well as participate in the Galway International Oyster Festival.

There were so many fantastic moments that it’s hard to highlight them all. But if I really had to pinpoint one particular experience that topped it all, I’d have to say it was slurping live Pacific and European Native oysters right out of the water at the Kelly Galway Oyster Farm. We were in hunter green wellies, calf deep in a little crevice of Galway Bay, standing next to rows upon rows of oyster tressles. The sun was breaking through the clouds right around that time and it had cast a sparkly spotlight over bits and pieces of the bay. Ugh, I thought I was dreaming! It was a trip of a lifetime. Many thanks to Richard Donnelly for reaching out and setting these meetings up.

Read the entries: Part 1 (Merroir), Part 2 (Tasting), Part 3 (Journey). By the way, for anyone who loves to travel and eat oysters — consider Ireland. They grow some of the best in the world.

So that concludes the countdown! Here’s to 2014 and all the new oyster adventures that it brings. What were some of your favorite oyster moments of 2013? And what are you looking forward to for next year? Leave a comment and slurp some oysters.

Oyster ReviewsSeptember 19, 2013

Epic West Coast Oyster Tasting at Waterbar

Waterbar in San Francisco has been on my to-do list for the better part of my oyster blogging career. So when B and I were en route to Napa for a long weekend, I insisted on making it a pit stop. SF glitters with many wonderful oyster bars, but my heart was set on this one. Why? The deciding factor wasn't about something or somewhere, but rather, someone.

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The oyster blogging community is a small one, but if you look hard enough, you can see that it brims with passion and personality. A couple years ago, I stumbled across a fellow oyster blogger, the SF Oyster Nerd, who also happens to work at Waterbar. I remember reading his very first, and very good post and felt giddy to discover someone who is just as meticulous and obsessed with oysters as I am. I became an instant fan. I have always been taken by how powerful oysters are in bringing people and communities together. You wouldn’t expect it, nor necessarily call it out, but this humble little bivalve has an incredible ability to connect people far and wide. In my case, it was to seek out a fellow ostreaphile on the opposite side of the country. More