Oysters in Florence at Golden View Open Bar

By Rand Hoch, Travel Editor

Last New Year’s Eve, my friends Tim, Liz and Katy, who had plans to rent an apartment in Florence for a week as part of an extended visit to Italy, invited me to join them for the Northern Italy portion of their adventure. 

How could I pass up a return visit to Italy?

Yet, a year after my last visit to Rome and the Amalfi Coast, I was still asking the question: Why, with so much coastline and so many lakes, does Italy not produce great oysters?  I touched on that in my July, 2011 posting on Rome’s Leading Oyster Aficionada: Emanuela Gismondi of Tuna.

Fortunately, I knew that there were more great places to enjoy oysters (albeit “foreign” oysters) elsewhere in Italy.  So, starting in Florence, the search began.

Katy had found a wonderful apartment in central Florence, just steps away from the Duomo.  It served as the perfect base for exploring the city – and beyond.

Towards the end of our first afternoon wandering around the city, Katy and I crossed the Ponte Vecchio and strolled into the Oltrarno district.

Taking a left at the foot of the bridge onto Via de Bardi, we quickly came across a sign reading “Goldenview Open Bar”. 

Aside from the fact that “open bar” is one of my favorite phrases in the English language, the brilliant  seafood display (with oysters) in the window was compelling.  Since we had just finished a late lunch less than an hour before, we were not quite ready for another break for food and drink.

Of course, we knew we would return to Golden View Open Bar very soon.

The next evening, we were seated on a terrace overlooking the Arno, taking it in as the setting sun  transformed the hues of the medieval Ponte Vecchio. 

All tolled, over the years, I have spent almost a month in Florence.  I have to admit, of all the restaurants I’ve been to in the city, Golden View Open Bar offered the best view of the river.  And the contemporary minimalist interior design was almost as impressive as the enchanting view from the terrace.

Since the restaurant was not primarily an oyster bar, the waiter had to send over a manager to talk about the restaurant’s oysters.

Referring to the Emporer Nero’s legendary love of oysters, he apologized for not having any native to Italy “that afternoon”.  He did, however, offer us Fines de Claire oysters for €3.5 a piece. 

While Fines de Claire from France are considered by some to be the best oysters in the world, my mind is not yet made up on that subject – and I am still thoroughly enjoying my search.  That having been said, Fines de Claire, which offer a slight hint of hazelnut, have long been towards the top of my list.
We were just sips into our first glasses of non-vintage Laurent-Perrier Champagne when the oysters arrived, along with a basket of focaccia.  A small ramekin of lemon juice, and another with a light cucumber sauce, were placed along side the oysters. 
Generally, I eat my oysters naked (that is, the oysters are unenhanced with sauces or toppings.  I’m not naked!).  That way, I may thoroughly enjoy the flavors offered.  However, we were intrigued by the cucumber sauce, so it had to be sampled.  Fortunately, the restaurant provided extremely tiny spoons which proved perfect for drizzling.

Tasting my first oyster naked, I noted the freshness – and the hint of hazelnut.  It was obvious this was going to be a great start to our evening.

A little more Champagne and I sampled another oyster with a drop of lemon juice, a dash of Tabasco, and a twist of pepper.  Again perfection.

Frankly, I am not a fan of cucumbers, but when in Rome (or in this case, Florence) ...

While the hint of cucumber gracefully complemented the Fines de Claire, one was sufficient for me.  For the rest of the afternoon, it was back to naked oysters – and more Champagne.

The waiter stopped by to see if we wanted to sample anything else from the menu.  When I asked for a recommendation, he steered us to their tartare – another one of my weaknesses.  We ordered three: yellow fin tuna, shrimp, and sea bass.  

As an intermezzo, we ordered a salad with carrots, radicchio and a little fennel.

When the tartare arrived, they were accompanied by three ramekins: cucumber sauce, lemon juice, and a light tomato sauce. 

The sea bass was incredibly fresh and the shrimp was tender and sweet. It must have been market day!  

The tuna was just okay.  (We had seen the tuna in the window a few days before, so it is quite possible it was not as fresh as the sea bass and the shrimp).

No matter which combinations of tartare and sauces we tried, they all worked well together.

Two afternoons later, we were back at Goldenview Open Bar for another little snack.  And next time I am in Florence, I know where I’ll be spending an evening or two.

Golden View Open Bar
Via de Bardi 58
Ponte Vecchio
Florence, Italy
+39 055214502

London’s Hix Oyster & Chop House

By Rand Hoch, Travel Editor
Chef Mark Hix opened his first restaurant – Hix Oyster & Chop House – four years ago.  Since then, he has opened an additional five London restaurants featuring creative British cuisine.

I recently stopped by Hix, located just steps from London’s historic Smithfield Market, to chat with chef Martin Sweeney.  I sat at the marble oyster bar, listening to Martin speak with pride about oysters from the British Isles.

At the outset, he explained that during the months without a “R”, Hix, like all restaurants in the UK, serves only rock (farmed) oysters.  The rest of the year, native oysters are available. 

The more he talked about the oysters at Hix, the more it seemed that Martin had a personal relationship with the oystermen who supplied the restaurant.  When I asked why, he simply responded, “When it comes to oysters, locality is the key.”    

Martin brought over a small platter with three pairs of oysters for us to share.  He pulled me a pint of local beer.

“First, try these rocks from Elbury Cove near Dorset. We get them from a man named Nigel.”

The chunky oyster was great.  Clean, with a bit of a mineral finish.

“Now, for a bit of contrast, try the Cumbrae rock oysters from Scotland’s West Coast.” 

These plump oysters sat deep in their shells.  They tasted nutty and significantly saltier than the Elbury Cove oysters.

My final oyster was from the Camel Estuary on the north coast of Cornwall.  It was massive and meaty, with a slight crunch.  And as it turned out, my favorite of the three offered.

The after work crowd had begun to trickle in, and Martin had to head back to get the evening started.  I’m glad I had the chance to stop by.

Hix Oyster & Chop House
36-37 Greenhill's Rents
Cowcross Street
London, EC1M 6BN, United Kingdom
020 7017 1930

Island Creek Oysters Foundation - Where the Money Goes

In just about one month I'll enjoy a wonderful evening with my wife and hundreds of other great people at the Island Creek Oysters Foundation Friends for Haiti Benefit, Saturday September 8, 2012 at Duxbury Beach. 

Over the past few months I have mentioned the event to several people and while it does sound like an amazing evening, the price point seems high to some, at first.  

At $250 per ticket, what do you think? Before you answer that, you need not only know what the evening will include, but more importantly, where the money goes.

The Island Creek Oysters Foundation (ICOF) tagline is, "We Believe in Aquaculture".  This is most prominently seen through the Foundation's work in Haiti.  

In 2011, The Clinton Foundation introduced ICOF to Caribbean Harvest in Haiti and the partnership was born. ICOF is the primary funder of their Tilapia Fish Farming Project. For every $2,400 donated to Caribbean Harvest, one Haitian family receives a Tilapia Fish Farming kit along with the training to grow Tilapia in Lake Azeui (central Haiti). The average income for a family in the Lake Azeui region is $350 per year - they live in poverty most of us can't even imagine. The successful Tilapia Fish Farmer will earn up to $3,000 per year, after expenses and even after retaining Tilapia to feed their family.

In 2011, Friends for Haiti raised $100,000 for Caribbean Harvest. In 4 short months, ICOF donations increased fish production by 40,000 pounds of fish! Remarkable. ICOF has a goal of donating $100,000 year to make a significant cultural and economic impact on the Lake Azeui region.

Now, add in what's included at the event:

- Island Creek raw bar 
- passed hors d’oeuvres
- cocktails

- sunset over the Back River
- short plates created by some of the best chefs in the country
- live music
- cigar bar

Did I mention the raw bar?  An Island Creek raw bar?  Gotta love an IC raw bar!!

So, given the $250 doesn't sound like much anymore, go buy a ticket or two online by clicking here

Not convinced yet? Watch this:

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