Wednesday, August 14, 2013

America's Best Oyster Bars (2013)

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Jon Rowley in Seattle at Elliott's Oyster House. Seattle Oyster-Guru Jon Rowley has organized the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition for 19 years. For the winners of the past years, see:
The 10 Winners of the 2013 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, USA
The 2012 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition - 10 Oyster Wines
The Best Wines for US West Coast and Other Oysters

In my home country Germany, oysters are very high on the list of any food aficionado, but you do not see them often on menus in restaurants nor is there a significant number of oyster bars in Germany. By contrast, in France, oysters are almost a daily staple, at least during the season. Similarly, at both coasts of the US, oysters are part of daily life. In Washington DC, supermarkets tend to have a nice seafood selection, including oysters and there are many oyster bars and restaurants that serve oysters at their bar.

America's Best Oyster Bars

Food and Wine issued a nice list of America's top oyster bars. It is a good list, as far as I can see. I would have included the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar in New York. Others may have more suggestions. But this is always the case with such lists. In any case it is a good bsae to work from.

Here is the list:

Hog Island Oyster Bar; San Francisco


Picture: Hog Island Oyster Bar in San Francisco


Elliott’s Oyster House; Seattle


Pictures: Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle





4 Types of Oysters

I distinguish 4 types of oysters:

The Pacific

Originally from Japan, the Pacific or Japanese oyster is the most widely cultured oyster in the world. It accounts for 75% of world production. In France, it has crowded out the Belon and now accounts for 99% of oyster production there. Gone are the days of the Belon in Paris. The Pacific oysters are marketed under a variety of names, often denoting their growing area. The Kumamoto is one of the most famous Pacific oysters. I tend to think of a Pacific oyster as a creamy oyster, with a mineral note.

The Olympia

The Olympia is a very small oyster seldom exceeding 2 inches. For comparison, in Massachusetts, oysters must be a minimum of 3 inches to be sold. Olympia is a native American oyster, which once flourished on the West Coast, before the Pacific took over. Olympias are hard to find today as they grow very slowly and are difficult to transport. They hold very little liquid and dry out quickly. The Olympia has a very full flavor with a distinct aftertaste.

The Atlantic

Another American native, there are many varieties of Atlantic oysters, such as the Malpeque from Prince Edward Island in Canada and the Blue Point from Long Island in New York State. Bluepoints were originally named for Blue Point, Long Island but now the term is generally applied to any Atlantic oyster two four inches long. These two are now the most common restaurant oysters in the US. Also called Eastern oyster, the Atlantic has a thick, elongated shell that ranges from 2 to 5 inches across. It's found along the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico in the US.

The Belon

The Belon, or European Flat, is Europe’s native oyster. The Belons are round and shallow. That’s why they are called Flats. They are also not very liquid and dry out fast. They have a long history. They used to grow in Brittany, Normandy, England, Spain, Holland, Greece and the Black See. But a disease is wiping them out worldwide. The Flats from the Belon river in Brittany were at some point the connoisseur’s top choice and the name was soon adopted by all oyster growers, a bit like the Blue Points from Long Island. The Belon oyster grows in limited quantity in Maine on the rocks of the Damariscotta river bed.

For more on the different kinds of oysters, see:
Oysters and Wine

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