Slippery, silky, briny. Possible aphrodisiac. Oysters have many attendant adjectives, but perhaps MFK Fisher gives the most arresting description in her masterpiece “Consider the Oyster,” with precision to the point of pause: a chilly, delicate gray body sliding down a red throat.
Everybody remembers his or her first raw oyster. Likely, a feeling of either anticipation or trepidation followed by either revulsion or revelation. Count yourself lucky to be in the latter, where ruffled shells filled with silky sea essence spell pleasure.
The Pacific Northwest has many local shellfish but only one native oyster, the Olympia — a very small, coppery-tasting bivalve that used to flourish in the cold waters of Puget Sound, particularly near Totten Inlet, where the Taylor family struck its claim several generations ago. Since that time, oyster farmers have added Japanese-based Pacific oysters to the ranks, and those babies love it here.
Some may remember the adage prescribing raw oysters only in months with an “r.” The reasoning was three-fold: to avoid eating beach-harvested oysters in warmer months, when the chance of bacterial growth is higher; to avoid eating oysters during spawning months, when they secrete a milky liquid and can have an off-taste; and to avoid over-harvesting of the crop. However, those concerns no longer apply to farmed oysters whose bivalves are kept on lines in deeper, colder water. Additionally, they now farm triploid oysters that do not spawn in the summer, so the meat remains firm throughout the season. And since the industry no longer relies solely on natural set oysters (meaning reproduction through old-fashioned “hope-I-get-lucky” spawning), the harvest numbers are capably monitored and managed.
Pacific oysters take 12-18 months to reach optimal size for consumption; however, some varieties like the Kumamoto need three to four years before they reach that sweet spot. At Taylor, oysters are harvested year-round, relying on the market to determine demand. “The holidays and Chinese New Year are busy times for us, as there is a high demand for shellfish,” said Marcelle Taylor, marketing manager at Taylor Shellfish Farms. She also says the oyster bars see highest demand during the summers.
This year, the tide-tumbled Shigoku oysters (a type of Pacific oyster) have been really fantastic, said Marcelle. The company is always working on new growing methods and pushing the envelope when it comes to oyster farming. Small-batch experiments are available periodically at the company’s various Oyster Bars for guests lucky enough to be visiting on the right days.
In addition to Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar, which opened in Bellevue at the end of summer, Taylor supplies oysters to a number of Eastside restaurants, including Pearl, Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar, Le Grand Bistro Americain, Matt’s Rotisserie and Oyster Lounge, Monsoon Bellevue, Bottle & Bull, Little Brother, John Howie Steak, and El Gaucho.
Oysters! Get your oysters here!
Located in downtown Bellevue, Pearl specializes in Northwest seafood dishes and always offers oysters on the half-shell, shucked to order. Stop in from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday during Happy Hour for the famous “One Buck Shuck” — $1 per oyster! pearlbellevue.com
Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar
Though mostly referring to sushi, nigiri, and sashimi, the “raw bar” also includes fresh oysters. Try the Oyster Sampler, featuring three pairs of oysters served with caviar and crème fraîche, melon relish, and Champagne mignonette granita. seastarrestaurant.com
Le Grand Bistro Americain
Carillon Point’s best view with a meal, Le Grand Bistro has been serving fresh oysters from its raw bar since 2010 — usually several different kinds per day, depending on what is available. Pair with a French Muscadet or glass of Champagne and — voila — perfection. bistrolegrand.com
Matt’s Rotisserie and Oyster Lounge
Get your oyster fix at Matt’s — upstairs at Redmond Town Center — where upwards of nine varieties are offered daily. During Happy Hour, get your slurp on for only $1.25 apiece! mattsrotisserie.com
Committed to local farmers, purveyors, and products, this Kirkland farm-to-fork eatery embodies “fresh” with oysters available year-round.
Bottle and Bull
Kirkland’s Ernest Hemingway-inspired scratch kitchen serves oysters with mignonette sauce on its dinner menu with $3 specials during Happy Hour from 3 to 6 p.m. daily. bottle-bull.com