Saturday, August 5 is National Oyster Day, a celebration of all things related to these delicious, delicate mollusks. So, of course, restaurants with raw bars around the country are offering up National Oyster Day specials, with happy hours, shooters, and a variety of oysters from both coasts on offer.
“Oysters have such a long history dating back to Roman times,” says Frank Botta, general manager at the iconic Grand Central Oyster Bar. “Here in New York, they are ingrained in our history as early as the 1800s. National Oyster Day has relevance not just to the food it is dedicated to, but the history that follows it. The Grand Central Oyster Bar has been around since 1913, but our little oyster friends have been around even longer.”
How should you eat oysters? Botta has some tips about that. “A fresh oyster has a visual meatiness to it (large or small), as well as a wetness,” he says. “If it looks dry and wrinkled, it’s probably not good to eat. I prefer my oysters naked. If I use anything, it would only be a light squeeze of lemon or a dash of hot sauce. Nothing is better than the primordial flavor of the oyster in its natural state.”
Don’t forget to take into account what you are drinking when you’re eating oysters, though. There are some great wines, spirits, and cocktails to pair. Here are some suggestions from various restaurants on the east coast as to what to imbibe while you slurp down some oysters.
“My favorite pairings with oysters are any dry sparkling white wine, a Muscadet from the still wine side, or a small batch tequila,” says Botta of the Grand Central Oyster Bar. The crispness of a dry, sparkling white wine goes well with the oysters’ salinity, the mineral qualities of a Muscadet accentuates the oysters’ sweetness, and Botta thinks tequila is an underrated spirit to pair with oysters.
Executive chef Rob McCue of The Fat Monk recommends Papa’s Pilar Rum 24-year-old finished in Spanish sherry casks – a favorite of Ernest Hemingway. “We spin the spirit using molecular gastronomy, suspending the rum, encapsulating it in a clear pearl,” says McCue. These pearls are then set atop the oysters. “As you shoot the oyster, the pearl pops in your mouth, a sudden explosion of the pure flavor of the rum meeting the raw oyster, a perfect and unexpected flavor divination of complex rum with the pure lust of the sea.”
Metropolis executive chef Chris Meenan is also a fan of pairing agave spirits with oysters. He recommends pairing the Mezcal Julep (made with mezcal, cranberry shrub, lime juice, and garnished with mint) with the Margarita Oyster that is served with a jalapeno-apple mignonette. “The sweet and smoky flavors from the cocktail pair beautifully with the crisp, creamy and slightly bitter flavors of the margarita flavored oyster,” he says. Meenan is also concerned with the future of the fishing industry, and believes that oyster farming is the right step towards sustainable practices. “Humans are on the verge of wiping out all wild fish species…The farming of oysters represents one of the most sustainable food sources available. We aren’t attacking a wild species, we are growing and harvesting. In addition, oysters have a purifying effect on the environment around them and are a cure for polluted waters.”
Photo by Christan Harder
Adam Geringer-Dunn is the co-owner of Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co., a seafood market and restaurant focused on sustainable and local seafood. His first choice is a crisp, dry white wine. “If I’m going to be ordering oysters, I’ll always scan the wine list for something out of the Loire Valley in France. Ideally, a Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc), Blanc de Blanc (Champagne), or Muscadet,” he says. “I find the acidity of crisp, dry white wines pair really well with oysters without ever overpowering their flavor.” But he also believes that a bucket of Miller High Life goes just as well with a few dozen oysters. “After all, High Life is ‘the champagne of beers.’”
Jayson Goldstein, food & beverage director at New York’s The Regency Bar & Grill, is also a fan of pairing Muscadet with oysters. “The salinity of the oyster paired with the light crisp citrus fruit flavor of the wine that cleans your taste buds,” he says, “so you’re ready to eat another oyster, is just so simple and old world.”
The Mermaid Inn has several NYC locations, all of which are an obvious choice for raw bar, and particularly oysters. General manager Leigh Bucknam recommends drinking an Aperol spritz made with Blanc de Blanc and orange zest. Leigh’s also another proponent of Muscadet. “[It’s] a classic white wine pairing for oysters…The soil in the region has seashells and nice minerality, which makes the wine very crisp and light, heightening the sometimes delicate flavors of the oysters.”
In Boston, Loco Taqueria bar manager Kaitlyn Fischer is a big fan of Maine’s Pemaquid oysters, which the restaurant frequently serves. “With medium brine, great texture, and a mildly sweet, crisp flavor,” she says, “this is a solid example of a New England oyster that remains approachable for guests that are new to the oyster scene. She likes to pair these with the restaurant’s Sky’s the Limit cocktail, made with muddled honeydew melon, fresh cucumber, blanco tequila, simple syrup and lime juice.