Are Oysters the New Sushi?

Are Oysters the New Sushi?

Diamond Jim Brady, a jewel encrusted behemoth and turn of the 20th century social equivalent of the Kardashians, was said to preface his famously huge dinners with two to three dozen raw oysters before moving on to multiple courses fit for a dozen eaters. What gets less press is that Brady enjoyed oysters at lunch almost daily as well. While historians have recently questioned whether he actually consumed several lobsters, steaks, birds and pies nightly, there is no doubt he ate a lot, and that he ate a lot of oysters.

Diamond Jim must be smiling right now. Oysters are back.

I’ve been traveling around the country doing research on local and regional foods for my newly launched column, Great American Bites, for USA Today. While I’m looking for things like unique barbecue and quirky pizza variations – and finding them – I keep running into mollusks. I’ve spied oyster bars in the least likely places, like both Austin and San Antonio on a recent trip into every day is 100-degree Texas.

Oyster on Halfshell with Lemon and Sauce

Oyster on Halfshell with Lemon and Sauce

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Just as the hamburger revival can be traced to the introduction of the pricey foie gras stuffed version by famed chef Daniel Boulud in New York, which triggered a
firestorm of one-upmanship, it may be Thomas Keller who spurred the oyster’s surge back to popularity. It is said that on his constantly changing multi-course gourmet dinners at the French Laundry in Napa and Per Se in New York, the only constant is that Keller always opens with his signature oyster dish, “Oysters and Pearls.” Keller also has served up a lot of oysters since opening Bouchon, his French bistro-style Napa eatery where he revived the bistro tradition of lavish tiered cold seafood platters.

But for his famed oysters and pearls, Keller does not use any old oysters – he uses those from the Island Creek Oyster Company in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Duxbury has the aquatic equivalent of a great wine micro-climate, and while most oysters skew towards the briny or sweet ends of the spectrum, those raised in this one harbor sits squarely in the middle and may be the best on earth. Most of the bay is farmed as sort of a friendly cooperative, with Island Creek leading the charge, and their oysters also go to New York’s Le Bernardin and other top eateries known as seafood specialists. The farmers more recently to their own place, the Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston, ground zero for the oyster movement.

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