A shucking good time was had by all at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival’s Oyster Bash. Celebrating—or as they promoted it, shellebrating—the festival’s 15th year, the event was held at the fashionably-chic Lure Fishbar at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel.
Sponsored by Lure Fishbar’s own Josh Capon along with Chef Jeremy Sewall from Island Creek Oyster Bar and Row 34 in Boston and Portsmouth, the two-hour feast included oysters plucked from the flats of Duxbury Bay, the marshlands of Virginia and the glacial waters of Washington State.
I was able to slurp oysters prepared my favorite way—naked, with a drop of lemon on the half shell—and also tried varieties with mignonette toppings, chargrilled and sizzling in garlic butter, and fried. Many of Miami’s best oyster restaurant were represented, as well as others from Charleston and New Orleans.
I arrived early and had a chance to chat with CJ from Island Creek Oyster Bar and Chef Jamie DeRosa from Miami Beach's newest oyster hotspot, Izzy's Fish & Oyster.
CJ got some help shucking from Skip Bennett, left, who founded Island Creek Oysters in 1992, and another pal (with the orange glove) whose name I didn't get! (My excuse? To busy eating oysters!)
CJ told me they brought 30 bags--about 3,000 oysters--for the event, and he guessed he'd personally open a third of them. He was also the only person at the event with a full size poster of himself (actually, there were two of him) available for Instagram selfies. ("It's kinda embarrassing," he sheepishly admitted.)
Outside, Chef Angelo Masarin--owner of the Midtown Oyster Bar and Salumeria 104--donned fashionable sunglasses to personally pop open bivalves from Island Creek that were served with a colorful drop of saffron and bottarga.
"Two restaurants were offering char-grilled oysters. The oysters on the left are from Chef Ryan Haigler of New Orlean's Grand Isle Restaurant. Made with Cajun Tasso, smoked oysters, butter and New Orleans-style breadcrumbs. (Whatever "NoLa-style breadcrumbs" means--it is obviously a synonym for yummy.) On another grill, right, Chef Ben McClean from Leon's Oyster Shop in Charleston served bubbling hot oysters with lemon, parsley, butter and Parmesan.
Represnting Izzy's Fish & Oyster Bar, Chef Jamie DeRosa, left, and Chef William Crandall served Island Creek Oysters with a sexy Latin twist of chorizo and salsa verde.
Miami's Mignonette, another local seafood and oyster bar, mixed it up a bit with Irish Points from PEI, and west coast Hama Hamas.
Last, but certainly not least, the crew at Lure served freshly-shucked oysters with an array of tasty toppings.
In another room, the folks at Oyster Creek were playing a spin-the-wheel game for prizes. I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to win this knife! It feels so light in the hand--apparently it's hollow--and I'd love to give it a try. Alas, I didn't win. The good news? It's only 364 days to the next Oyster Bash. Better luck to me next time?
Question: How do you know when your oyster fascination turns into oyster obsession?
How about when you’re sitting and eating a dozen perfectly shucked ones (6 varieties) with a lovely glass of NZ Sauvignon Blanc in a stylish and welcoming bar, and you get on the phone to call another place to see if they have yet another variety of oysters on their menu? Because that’s just what I did a week ago and I’m starting to question my sanity.
But I’m getting ahead of the story here.
This story actually began two weeks ago when I traveled to the Hale Street Tavern in Beverly Farms to meet my pal Greg for oysters (see Nov. 12 post). As often happens when sitting and swooning over oysters—while taking photos and notes—I engaged in conversation with the person sitting next to me at the bar. Turns out that person was Dan Enos, executive chef and operating partner at The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Boston. His description of his menu, featuring a dozen or so oysters, made me want to visit. And it didn’t take long to enlist Greg, who’s fast turning into my oyster muse, to join me.
The Oceanaire Seafood Room has 12 locations in the U.S., and the one in Boston is located downtown near the giant steaming teakettle. (Bostonians, you know what I’m talking about.)
Large, elegant, and stylish with a bar running the length of one wall, Oceanaire is a perfect oyster-eating destination. On the night we arrived, Chef Enos wasn’t working but we were well served by our charming waiter, Felix, who helped select our wines. First, my choice: an Austrian Gruner Veltliner. (Mainly because I love to say, “Gruner Veltliner.”) Second, his (and the better) choice: a Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.
We ordered a dozen oysters, two each:
1. Kumamoto (Washington). Turns out Greg was a kumamoto virgin (who knew?) These were his favorite of the eve, saying they were “completely different” than any oyster he’s had. “The flavor just keeps changing and changing and changing.” To me, they were typical kumos: mild, sweet and buttery. I’m more an east coast kinda oyster gal.
2. Moon Shoal (Barnstable, Mass.). These had a milky look but were plump and surprisingly firm with a sweet finish. “Squeaky chewy,” said Greg, who looked transported while eating his but admitted it was a hard act to follow the kumo.
3. Sunberry Point (PEI). Mmmmm. I loves me some PEI oysters. These were smallish, salty and sweet with dimension in the middle. Greg found them one-of-a-kind: “They’re not the same.” “As what?” I asked. “As anything!”
4. Plymouth Rock (take a wild guess, Mass.). High briny and meaty. “Lush,” declared Greg. “The finish is great. It stays a long time and doesn’t disappear.”
5. Blue Points (Conn.)”More sea life flavor to them,” said Greg. Me? I could easily eat dozens of these: meaty, sweet, salty, fruity, yummy.
6. Little Island, Maine. Sweet and mild, not much salt. My least fave of the bunch, but perhaps they should have been tasted earlier in the rotation. Whatever, mild Little Islands got me thinking of hearty, metallic Belons, like the wild ones from Maine I recently had at the Island Creek Oyster Bar.
Which is why I was on the phone that night, calling to see if ICOB had any Belons on their menu, and why I said, “Let’s be madcap,” convincing Greg to hop into a cab to Kenmore Square on a busy Saturday night. We squeezed in at the bar and ordered 2 wild Wellfleets and 4 Belons, along with a glass to share of Lustau Almacenista Amontilllado. The perfect ending to an oyster-eating night.
So…madcap of crazy? You decide.
Wow-ee-wow. If you’re ever visiting Boston on the third Sunday of any month, make sure to snag a reservation at the wine and oyster pairing/tasting offered at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Kenmore Square.
Yesterday I sat at the bar with 6 other guests (they can accommodate 10) and enjoyed three flights of oysters and wine, served two pair at a time. Before the tasting, Chris Sherman (VP of Island Creek Oysters) regaled us by defining what he calls the “merrior-terroir experience.”
“Wine can give us a way to understand the experience of eating oysters. Both are a strong expression of a geographic place.”
In a nutshell (or shall I say oyster shell?): Just as soil type, climate and location of vineyards impacts the flavor of wine, so the region, water quality and temperature, surrounding sea life and harvesting methods affects the taste of oysters. Yeah, we knew that. But it’s always interesting to hear it again. And no matter how much I think I know about oysters, I always learn something new.
For example, I had no idea that European Belons grow wild in Maine. Yep. (In photo above, on left.) Apparently they were brought over from Europe decades ago, but Maine’s cold winters were too cold for intertidal harvesting. The ones that escaped, so to speak, survived in a subtidal zone, and are harvested by divers. Since they live below water and are never exposed to air, these oysters have week adductor muscles and so are banded before shipping—to insure they won’t pop open. The taste was, remarkably, pure Belon: robust and firm with a strong metallic opening note. We tasted this one last, paired with a smoky, nutty sherry: Lustau Almacenista Amontilllado. Yum.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself.
Jo Watson, assistant wine director at ICOB, chooses the wines and explains each pairing. The plan: first taste wine, then eat oyster. Worked for me.
Round One: Oyster #1 was an Island Creek grown in the high tidal waters of Duxbury, on the bottom near mud and eel grass. As expected, it had a strong salty taste up front, mossy and vegetal central flavors, and a sweet finish.
Wine pairing: NV Guy Bossard-Thaud Brut Muscadet, an acidic and citrusy sparkling wine that cut the salinity and brightened the oyster flavor. (Full disclosure: I’m parroting Jo’s observations here.)
Oyster #2 was an ICO Row 34, also an Island Creek, though this time grown off-bottom on racks, so it was a little less vegetal yet still absolutely delicious.
Wine pairing: 2009 Szigetti Brut Blanc de Blancs Burgenland, a truly yummy (my words) high quality sparkling Chardonnay from Austria (Jo’s words).
Round Two: Oyster #3 was a Moon Shoal from Barnstable, Mass.
“It’s the West Coastiest East Coast oyster that we sell,” said Chris.
Wine pairing: 2010 Vigneto Reine Mataossu Punta Crena. a “high acidic, mineral-driven” wine from the Northwest coast of Italy.
Oyster #4 was a Spring Creek, also from Barnstable, farmed near a marshy area at the mouth of a creek. This oyster had hints of vegetals and was slightly sweeter than the Oyster Creeks.
Wine pairing: 2011 Do Ferreiro “Rebisaca” Rias Baixas, a blend of Alberino and other grapes from Galicia in Spain.
Round Three: Oyster #5 hailed from the West Coast, a Hama Hama from Lillywaup, Wash. A different species than the East Coast oysters, it was—as expected—creamy and buttery, with fruity flavors of watermelon, cucumber and walnut.
“With West Coast oysters, all the flavors come at you at once,” said Chris.
Wine pairing: 2011 Gramona “Gessami” Penedes, an easy-drinking, floral and slightly acidic blend from near Barcelona.
Oyster #6, a Wild Belon from the Damariscotta River in Maine. (Described with wine pairing, above.)
And here’s a SHOUT OUT to some of my new fave oyster-eating pals who made the tasting ever-so-much fun: Faith Drennon and Mike Bruno of Boston, Kathy Pennington of Denver, and Katie Bishop of Chicago, true bivalve lovers, oyster sluppers, and half shell dreamers!
“If I die I want to go by oyster,” said Katie. Can’t argue with that.
Deets: Land Meets Sea: Terrior and Merrior Tasting. Every third Sunday of the month. 617-532-5300 for reservations. 2:00pm-3:00pm; $35 per person includes 6 oyster varieties plus wine pairings.
I grew up spending part of every summer in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, which included eating many oysters. After stumbling into an oyster shucking competition in Miami Beach in 2006, I’ve become a fan of the sport and have written about local, national, and international competitions for the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, American Way Magazine, and the Huffington Post. I've also written oyster-centric stories for Rustik and Modern Farmer. I’ve never met an oyster I didn’t want to eat.