Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Best Oyster Bars in the US

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Oyster Guru Jon Rowley in Seattle tasting oysters and oyster wines: West Coast Oysters and Wine with Jon Rowley in Seattle, USA

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

Travel and Leisure issued a nice list of America's top oyster bars. It is a good list, as far as I can see.

Here is the list, including the Travel and Leisure comments. I added my photos.

For a similar listing see:
America's Best Oyster Bars (2013)

Hog Island Oyster Company: San Francisco, California

Located inside the Ferry Building, this airy, recently expanded oyster bar provides sweeping waterfront views of the Bay Bridge along with the company's fresh shellfish pulled from nearby Tomales Bay. Chef Christopher Laramie's menu features sustainably raised seafood like steamed Manila clams or semolina-dusted crispy smelts. Much of the produce is grown near the oyster farm.

Picture: Hog Island Oyster Company: San Francisco, California

The Ordinary: Charleston, South Carolina

Chef Mike Lata focuses on East Coast oysters with a sprinkling of choices from the West Coast at this former bank building turned sleek seafood hall. "We have several oysters that we can get locally and two within an arm's reach," he explains, "and I like to serve them side by side to highlight their differences." Wild Caper's Blades oysters from South Carolina are available at the white tiled raw bar; pickled shrimp or poached razor clams, served cold with an apple cilantro and jalapeño sauce, are another menu favorite.

Gilhooley's Raw Bar: San Leon, Texas

This cash-only dive's specialty is Oysters Gilhooley, and it makes a persuasive case that the best oyster cookery comes from the Gulf region. Shucked oysters on the half shell are dotted with butter and hot sauce, dusted with Parmesan cheese, and then wood-roasted until browned. While the dish is a year-round hit, the raw shellfish pulled from Texas waters are best enjoyed in season during the colder months.

Matunuck Oyster Bar: South Kingstown, Rhode Island

As an extension of Matunuck Oyster Farm, this seafood restaurant overlooks the estuary where the shellfish grow. After studying aquaculture at nearby University of Rhode Island, owner Perry Raso started farming oysters, eventually opening a place for diners to enjoy them. "We pride ourselves on doing clam shack fare, as well as more refined options," explains Raso. While Matunuck's own steely oysters served raw on the half shell are the focus, the bar also serves a few other varieties from the smallest state, side by side to highlight their subtle variations in flavor.

Taylor Shellfish Samish Farm Store: Bow, Washington

Family-owned Taylor Shellfish Farms already operates three oyster bar locations in Seattle, but the best ambience is found at its farm store 90 minutes north of the city. A day trip to this bay-side shack, tucked into the tall pine trees and rocky terrain, is ideal during the warmer months of the year. It provides little more than picnic tables and grills. Eaters are encouraged to shuck their own Shigokus and Kumamotos, but the store's employees will do it for a small fee.

Picture: Taylor Shellfish on Melrose Market,  1521 Melrose Ave. Seattle (Capitol Hill)

Island Creek Oyster Bar: Boston, Massachusetts

Are oysters aphrodisiacs? This is the place to find out, as Island Creek happens to be one of America's most romantic restaurants. The muted color palette and massive wall of cages filled with oyster shells were inspired by the sunset over nearby Duxbury Bay—the location of owner Skip Bennett's oyster farm. He and chef Jeremy Sewall highlight its bounty, along with shellfish from several nearby sources, and work closely with fishermen and farmers to secure local ingredients. The menu credits fellow oyster farmers like Don Wilkinson of Plymouth, Scott and Tina Laurie of Barnstable, and other purveyors by name.

Grand Central Oyster Bar: New York City

This institution within Grand Central Terminal serves about 2 million oysters annually to suited businessmen and tourists beneath its vaulted tiled ceilings. Open since 1913, the swanky bar has featured bivalves from all over the Western Hemisphere; a sign above the long wooden bar lists the day's particular varieties. Its famed oyster pan roast, with gently cooked Blue Points floating in a cream sauce with chile and paprika, is one of the longest-running menu items in New York City.

Pictures: Grand Central Oyster Bar: New York City

Merroir: Topping, Virginia

It's worth the hour-long drive from Richmond just to soak up this restaurant's view of the Rappahannock River flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. Merroir is linked to Travis and Ryan Croxton's Rappahannock Oyster Company, a pioneer in reviving the region's oyster industry after years of environmental degradation. The menu is built around the company's three different oyster varieties—all grown in different parts of the Chesapeake. They vary in salinity and sweetness depending on where they're grown in relation to the mouth of the bay and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Owner Travis Croxton and Farm Manager Patrick Oliver

Pictures: At the merroir with Owner Travis Croxton

Eventide Oyster Co.: Portland, Maine

Turquoise walls make a fitting backdrop for this overflowing oyster bar, where stakes in the ice categorize the bivalves as "from Maine" or "away." The Old Port area restaurant does New England classics like lobster rolls and chowder along with creative offerings like Kim Chee Ice or cucumber ginger. Eventide's Chinese-style steamed bun, filled with crispy fried oysters, tomato, and tart pickled daikon, red onion, and jalapeño, is a standout.

The Original Oyster House: Mobile, Alabama

For more than 30 years, this family-friendly restaurant on raised pillars over Mobile Bay has served seafood with a southern accent. Gulf oysters arrive at your table on the half shell, either raw or chargrilled. And there's plenty of the fried goodness you'd expect: fried pickles, fried crawfish tails, and fried grouper with grits. Turn up at dinnertime to savor a coastal sunset complete with egrets and salty sea breezes.

The Walrus and the Carpenter: Seattle, Washington

An ornate spiny chandelier hovers above chef Renee Erickson's zinc oyster bar in the hip Ballard neighborhood. About a dozen oyster varieties representing the West Coast, from California to Alaska, are piled into wire baskets, topped with ice, and labeled with chalkboard signs. Diners also dig in to comforting seafood dishes like grilled sardines and scallop tartare with cucumber and dill mousseline.

For the original article in Travel and Leisure, see here.

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 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.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Raphael Doerfler (Earl Ostrea Chanca, Cabane 22, 54 allee du Grand piquey, 33950 Lege Cap-Ferret), an Oyster Farmer at Arcachon Bay, Bordeaux, France

See also:
Visiting an Oyster Farm at Arcachon Bay, Bordeaux: Raphael Doerfler at Earl Ostrea Chanca, France

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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