I’m a late bloomer when it comes to oysters. It’s not that I’d been squeamish (though I had seen the Punky Brewster episode where an oyster falls down her blouse when she’s adopted by rich parents) or concerned about eating something recently alive. It’s more that it felt risky; like: “Who knows where that oyster came from? It could be from someone’s bathtub!” Getting over my issues didn’t take much; it just took a platter of oysters with friends consumed by the beach. No other food better captures a sense of environment than oysters. Eating them, no matter where you are, you’re instantly transported to the water, to a glass of chilled white wine, even if you’re not drinking a glass of chilled white wine. Here are my five favorite oyster experiences so far, perfect for a pre-dinner date.
1. Blue Plate Oysterette (Santa Monica, CA).
Reason one: it’s across the street from the beach. Reason two: you can sit outside. Reason three: the oysters are excellent, as is the chilled white wine. And if you go at the right moment, you can watch the sun set over the water as you experience one of life’s great culinary pleasures. It’s the perfect marriage of eating and environment. Tip: Give the hostess your phone number, and she’ll call you when your table’s ready…which gives you a chance to check out the beach.
2. Pearl Oyster Bar (New York, NY)
The remarkable thing about Rebecca Charles’s Pearl Oyster Bar is that even though you’re on a small city street in Manhattan, surrounded by tourists and NYU students with the whiff of Papaya Dog down the street, once you step inside you’re instantly transported to a seafood shack in Maine. All of the food here is wonderful—the lobster rolls, the clam chowder, the Caesar salad—but if you go early enough, you can score a seat at the bar and enjoy a platter full of the freshest oysters before continuing on with your evening. Probably you won’t want to leave. Tip: After your done, go see a movie at the IFC Center which is right around the block. Also close by: Murray’s Cheese, New York’s most impressive cheese store.
3. The Oyster Bar (Bellingham, WA)
True, it’s not the kind of place you’d pop into just before dinner (it’s a little too formal and hard to get to for that) but the setting of The Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive in Bellingham, Washington is just too extraordinary to leave off this list. You’re looking out at the San Juan Islands while eating oysters, some of which have been harvested right below where you’re sitting. So go for oysters and stay for dinner; everyone gets a free soufflé with their entrée, so it’s a win-win. Tip: Take a trip to Taylor Shellfish Farm, which is just down the street, before your dinner—you’ll see where your oysters were harvested.
4. Hog Island Oysters (Napa Valley, CA)
In the Oxbow Public Market, in California’s Napa Valley, you can stock up for a world class picnic with cheese and meat and olives and wine. Before you do that, though, sit down at Hog Island Oysters and order a whole platter of whatever looks good. If it’s nice, sit outside, though that’s not essential. What is essential is that you take advantage of this world class oyster depot before going on your merry way. Tip: Order a glass of sparkling rose to wash your oysters down (as I did when I ate here); the bubbles make the experience extra special.
5. The Walrus & The Carpenter (Seattle, WA)
[Image via Starchefs.com]
Confession: I haven’t yet been to the Walrus & The Carpenter in Seattle, but I’m including it here for several reasons. One: I cooked with the chef, Renee Erickson, at her home for my cookbook and she’s so passionate and knowledgeable about food, I have full faith that her oyster bar would totally reflect that. Two: the place is so popular, so celebrated in the press, I don’t know a single person who’s gone there and hasn’t raved. So cry “foul” if you must, but I’m glad I’m including “The Walrus & The Carpenter” on this list. It wouldn’t make sense to leave it out. Tip: If you enjoy your dinner here, check out Chef Erickson’s other restaurant, the Boat Street Café. It’s wonderful.