‘Tis the season. I’m not talking about the silly holiday season. I’m talking about the prime oyster season. This is the time of year they are fattened up for the colder months ahead. I like them year-round but I pretty much get obsessed with oysters every holiday.
Growing up, I used to eat smoked oysters (from a can) on crackers and occasionally would have one of my Dad’s oysters Rockefeller when he ordered them. I didn’t have oysters on the half-shell until some friends took me out to a Cajun restaurant for my birthday. We ordered oysters and a giant pot of boiled crawfish. It was one of the best birthday meals ever. Ever since then, it’s been my philosophy that the worst thing you can do to an oyster is cook it.
This year, I decided to head up to the Pacific Northwest to see what I could find in the way of oysters and oyster bars with character. I started out in Seattle at Pike Place Market. Not the most original place to go but it sufficed as a jumping-off point. The market is a seafood paradise of salmon, crab, oysters and a myriad of other seafood.
Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar is in the middle of Pike Place boasting 30 different kinds of oysters. It’s part local dive bar and part tourist restaurant. It might seem like a little bit of an identity crisis but iI guess it works for the place. Our timing was off as we got there at a very busy time and decided not to fight the crowd.
After a little research, found out the place to be was The Walrus and the Carpenter in the Ballard neighborhood of Northwestern Seattle. They open at 4pm for happy hour Sunday through Thursday with half-price oysters. We were tipped off to get there early because a line forms at the door about 20 minutes before they open.
The Walrus is a small place down a hallway leading behind another restaurant. By 4pm there were close to 20 people lined up in the hallway. Each group was filed in and seated at tables or at the bar. I would describe the look of the bar as modern nautical rustic and hope that paints the right picture.
They featured 5 different oysters and got down to shucking as soon as the orders started pouring in. Chef/owner Renée Erickson was in the trenches shucking and filling orders. We ordered a sampler of 4 of each oyster to start and I tried the local Rainier Lager. Thankfully, the oysters were a whole lot better than the beer and we ordered more of our favorite as well as the smoked trout over lentils.
The food was top notch and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. I’m always a big fan of the open kitchens where you can sit at the bar and see all of the food prep in action. If I lived near Ballard, they would definitely get used to seeing my face at their restaurant.
After Seattle, I headed down to Portland to check out how weird to really is (pretty weird). Maybe because it’s not a coastal city, but there weren’t too many oyster bars in Portland. But, then again, you don’t need a lot if you have EaT: An Oyster Bar in your city.
I don’t know what qualifies as a dive bar in Portland as they all seemed kind of "divey" to me (not necessarily in a bad way), but I’m pretty sure this one qualifies and Chef Tobias Hogan is damn proud of it. The bar is larger, open and inviting. It’s the type of place that can fill up and still not feel crowded.
It’s got a Big Easy feel and menu with an emphasis on high-octane drinks. Happy hour is from 4-6pm daily with $1 chef’s choice oysters during happy hour and all day Tuesday.
We had a couple dozen of different oysters and then ordered an oyster shooter. It was a bloody mary shooter made with a Thai pepper infused vodka. It almost knocked me off my stool and then lit my mouth on fire. It was great but definitely not for the faint-of-heart. The oysters were fresh and briny, just the way I like them.
I went during the day but I imagine this place is pretty popular with the locals and could be a really cool bar to be at during a weekend night.
You could get into a debate whether West Coast or East Coast oysters are better but I haven’t done the proper taste-testing to offer an opinion. I’ll be heading to the East Coast next week to further my education. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the oyster offerings of the Pacific Northwest but at least I’ve gotten started and, as they say, a journey starts with the first step.