There are some foods so polarizing as to leave no middle ground. Raw oysters are one such food. You’ll rarely meet a person who’s “meh” on oysters; fans will pay upwards of $3 for a one-bite shellfish, while critics can’t even get near them. Raw oysters, then, are the perfect fodder for our favorite culinary battle-dome: Point/Counterpoint.
When I’m feeling fancy, I want oysters. When I’m not feeling fancy, I still want oysters. I’ve eaten raw oysters while clinking champagne flutes at Grand Central Oyster Bar and while wiping shucking juice off my jeans at Taylor Shellfish Farms. I’ll never tire of their saline splendor.
To me, pristine oysters justify their price tag. They’re one of the few foods that truly boasts terroir, and good ones are worth paying for. Pacific kumamotos taste ethereal and sweet compared to briny, meaty New York Blue Points. There’s a reason most oyster service comes with a short geography lesson; where the oysters are from and how they’re farmed or harvested matters. You can taste it.
If that’s not an exquisite food experience, I don’t know what is. Though their flavors vary wildly, I love oysters with mellow brininess and lots of minerality. (My friend Cristina jokes that my preference in white wine, like oysters, is for specimens “that taste like licking rocks.”) Oysters deliver flavors that no other foods possess, and the singularity of that experience is what makes them such a treat.
My dad was a bit of a gourmet, so when we went to Panama City Beach every year for spring break, he always pushed me to try raw oysters. To please him, I did, adding as much lemon and hot sauce as I could handle, but I just could never really get on board. (Although I did love the Oysters Rockefeller.)
So this year, on spring break with my own family in New Orleans, I thought I’d try again. Everywhere we went, I’d see people with these giant trays of raw oysters (kindred spirits, Kate!), clearly having the time of their lives. So when we were at an amazing restaurant in the French Quarter with some friends, and they ordered oysters I figured if I was ever going to try oysters again, this would be the place. Tableau bills its sublime “aqua-culture oysters that are being hand-harvested in the Gulf region,” and I wanted to like them, I really did.
But it’s just… a texture thing with me? I get the flavors you’re talking about, Kate. Oysters do taste like the ocean, but in such a cold and slimy way! There was just nothing about the experience I enjoyed, especially when there were so many other delicious things to eat (fried oysters, say). I’ll never have better raw oysters than those ones in New Orleans, so if I didn’t like those, I’m pretty sure they’re just not for me. But, I swear, I did try.