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Nov 17, 2000 11:23 AM

It's an "R" Month again... where should I have Oysters?

  • m

Lets look at oyster places in Manhattan.. Where are the best and why?

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  1. Well, there's Pearl for all-around deliciousness and freshness of the food, not just the oysters (it's hard to make a meal of nothing but oysters, much as I love them). The Oyster Bar for old-time New York atmosphere and good wines that complement the oysters..Bongo if you want cocktails..Aquagrill for variety, a GREAT selection of wines and yummy fish of all kinds in all guises..Blue Ribbon for that late-night oyster jones, with their fabulous fried chicken to follow..Balthazar for a wide and ever-changing selection--I want some oysters NOW!

    11 Replies
    1. re: Martha Gehan


      You took the words right of my mouth. Aquagrill, Balthazar, Blue Ribbon, exactly what I would recommend and your summaries are right on the mark.

      One point of disagreement: Oysters CAN be a whole meal if enjoyed slowly and lovingly. I actually lost 10 lbs one summer (by ignoring the "R" rule) and having a dozen oysters and a glass of chardonnay for dinner every night. (Why this was practical and desirable is a long story). I felt totally sensually indulged every night and I got completely tuned in to the different variety's of oyster in a very intense way. Plus as an unintended consequence - I got pleasingly thin!

      1. re: Elaine

        Wow! Think I will start now!

        1. re: rhubarb

          What is an "R" month?
          I recommend the oysters @ the Blue Water Grill - Union Square.

          1. re: Trish

            The old adage goes that oysters should only be eaten in months with an "R" when the waters are cooler.
            Is this right?

            1. re: blanche

              Short Answer:

              Yes. The adage is a somewhat imprecise rule of thumb as to when the sea water will be sufficiently warm to induce the oysters to spawn, making them soft and milky, and therefore undesirable to eat.

              Long Answer:

              An exception to an otherwise dismal history of investments was my decision to purchase some property on Hood Canal in Washington State back in the early 1970s when such property was selling at bargain prices. Among the many benefits of this property is a beach loaded with Pacific oysters. As a result of my interest in, and maintenance of, these oyster beds, I've come to learn a little bit about oysters.

              There are at least two theories regarding the origin of the notion that you should only eat oysters in months with an "R." One is the belief that, in the days when there was little refrigeration, there was increased risk of oysters spoiling in the hot summer months. I tend to discount this theory. The real problem, which is as true today as in years past, is that oysters spawn in the summer months. Spawning takes place in response to water temperature. As the water temperature becomes warmer in the summer months, the oysters respond by spawning. During spawning, the oysters become soft and milky. There is nothing dangerous about eating them in this condition. They simply aren't very palatable. The exact time of spawning varies year to year, depending on the weather and water conditions. On northern Hood Canal, where my property is located, June is usually a pretty safe month for eating raw oysters, even though it doesn't have an "R" in it. I keep eating oysters until I hit my first milky ones. This is usually in July. Sometime in September, the oysters usually complete their spawning. After spawning, oysters build up glycogen, with provides the appearance of a "fat" oyster. The oysters on my beach are best in the winter when the water is cold and the oysters are both fat and firm. Picture a cool, crisp winter day, a bonfire on the bulkhead overlooking my beach, a loaf of good bread, some Egg Farm (or other good) sweet butter, a good bottle of Chablis, and buckets full of firm, fat oysters just plucked off the beach. Heaven!

              The commercial oyster industry has responded to the lack of oysters during the spawning season in a couple of different ways. One is to individually quick freeze ("IQF") oysters during the peak winter season, so they can be thawed and served "raw" in the summer months. This practice, for example, is noted on the Fanny Bay Oysters website. When eating raw oysters during the summer, you should ask whether the oysters being served have been frozen. The other commercial response has been to create triploid or "sexless" oysters. Ken Chew, Associate Dean of the University of Washington College of Ocean and Fishery Science is credited with this invention. For those interested, I recommend the book, "Sexless Oysters and Self-Tipping Hats: 100 Years of Invention in the Pacific Northwest," by Adam Woog.

              Oysters are very interesting critters. For example, American oysters are divided into separate male and female individuals and spawn by spewing millions of eggs and sperm into surrounding waters, where external fertilization takes place. Because of this, the water currents can take the larvae far from the oyster beds where the spawning originated. Some years, I have lots of new "baby oysters" on my beach. Other years, because of the fickleness of the ocean currents, I have very few new "babies" on my beach. Another interesting fact is that American oysters can change sex during their lifetime from one to the other and back again. The change is thought to be related to environmental conditions, with femaleness being favored in locations and years with good food supply. Europeans oysters, in contrast to American oysters, are hermaphroditic. Each individual possesses male and female germ cells, and fertilization occurs inside the inhalant chamber of the oyster. The larvae then incubate in the chamber for up to ten days prior to being ejected into the surrounding waters.

              1. re: Tom Armitage

                very interesting dissertation. Do you live in Washington State?
                How did you find out about Egg Farm dairy?
                (I was up there on Saturday, the Vin Santo ice cream is sublime.)

                1. re: Tom Armitage


                  Great post. Sorry I missed it the first time. I remember researching this subject when I was in medical school in New Orleans. One of the concerning pathogens that can be found in oysters is vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria that is similar to the one that causes cholera. When ingested it can cause an infection that can be lethal, particularly in patients with liver disease. The numbers of vibrio increase dramatically during the warmer summer months in the Gulf of Mexico. A reason to avoid oysters in New Orleans at that time. Not sure if this happens in the cooler waters of the Northwest.

          2. re: Elaine

            I wanted to have oysters at Aqua Grill today but I was overwhelmed by the selection. Where does one begin?

            1. re: efdee

              That's a perfectly reasonable question. There are so many oyster varieties available that to choose becomes a daunting task. Not so very long ago one enjoyed the oysters in one's own back yard, so to speak, and could only pine wistfully after those the folks across the country were enjoying. I love oysters but was not familiar with a lot of the varieties. You can approach it as you would a wine tasting. Talk to the person at the raw bar, ask questions, and read. Flavors will be described, as in, metalic, briny, etc. Get half a dozen with as many varieties. Compare. Then when you've found what suits you for that particular occasion order a bunch more. Have fun. Down the hatch, slurp! pat

              1. re: pat hammond

                There's always a staggering number of things to choose from, without any basis in experience to make the choices, when you're trying something new. Although I agree with Pat to some extent about asking questions that may guide your initial choices, the main thing is not to fret about making the "right" choice and just dive in and start eating. Try as many different kinds of oysters as you can manage. That's a much better way to learn, in my opinion, than asking for "expert" advice, reading books and articles, etc. If you like raw oysters, then, as long as the oysters are fresh, there's no such thing as a "bad" oyster. The differences in taste are not so profound that you will adore one type and find a different type completely unpalatable. All fresh oysters taste good to me. It's just that I like some a little more than others. The point: you can't make a mistake. Relax, slurp, have fun!

                1. re: pat hammond
                  Peter B. Wolf

                  Very right Pat, I like "MALPEQUE" from Prince Edward Island. Happy slurping

          3. I just had the best Oyster's ever at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. They are the best. Peroid.
            Unbelievable freshness and varety. The xl's were sweet and quite a mouthful.

            1. Shelley's New York on 57th Street (on the site of the old Horn & Hardardt) actually has some great oysters...and the clams casino I had weren't bad either. Oyster Bar at Grand Central is always a good choice as well.

              1. Blue Ribbon and Five Points are two of my favorite places for oysters, especially at the bar.