Hong Kong: Oysters in the Sky

By Rand Hoch, Travel Editor

In November, I traveled with my friend Jeff to Myanmar – the emerging Asian travel hotspot formerly known as Burma. After our two weeks exploring the country, Jeff headed on to Laos. My road, however, led to Hong Kong, as I was ready to sample oysters in the sky.

Oyster and Wine Sheraton Hong KongThe Oyster & Wine Bar, located atop the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel and Towers in Kowloon is Hong Kong's leading spot for oyster aficionados. It is best known for serving “jet fresh”seasonal oysters from around the globe. Each day, close to two dozen oyster varieties are flown in and served to discriminating travelers and Hong Kong residents.

More often than not, when writing for the blog, I opt for a seat at the raw bar to engage with the shuckers as I sample the oysters.  However, although the large semi-circle oyster bar was staffed with two expert “Oyster Specialists” surrounded by hundreds of oysters ready to be served, we went with a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows instead. We wanted to enjoy for the panoramic view of the Central Hong Kong skyline across Victoria Harbor.  Making this choice rewarded us with an amazing view of  “A Symphony of Lights." Hong Kong’s light and laser spectacle which begins nightly at 8:00 p.m.

where to buy oysters in hong kongArriving an hour before the show, we spent time chatting about the evening's oyster selections with the restaurant’s knowledgeable Oyster Specialists. We were told that, on average, the restaurant served 800 oysters per day.

While many of the regulars were ordering oysters by checking off a list (as is often done with dim sum in Hong Kong), we relied on the specialists in making our selections.

That night, the restaurant was offering “only” fourteen varieties from France: Belon, Charente-Maritime,  Écaille d'Argent, Geay, Gillardeau,  La Royale Cabanon, Majestie, Ostra Regal, Pascal Breuil, Perle Blanche, Perle Noir, Roumegous, Sentinelle, Special Tarbouriech and Tasarskaya.
The USA was represented solely by Pacific oysters: Eagle Rock, Hammersley Inlet, Jumbo Barron Point, Pacific Rock, Shigoku, South Puget Sound Kumamoto, Totten Virginica and Wildcat Cove.

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There was also one oyster variety from Ireland: Muirgen.

In a well-iced open case at the far end of the oyster bar, a shucked sample of each variety of oysters was displayed, along with a small sign indicating the name, the nationality, the unique characteristics (e.g., salty, sweet, mild, fruity, creamy, plump, firm, crispy, etc.) and, of course, the price.

Apparently, global airfare for oysters is rather expensive, as the price per oyster ranged from a low of  $6.75 (U.S.) to a high of $11.50 (U.S.). That having been said, almost all of the oysters were in the $7.00 (U.S.) range.

Having made our selections, we headed over to the table where we were presented with the wine list – on an iPad. This allowed us to sort through the collection by country, wine region and/or grape.  Wine Director Ace Lee’s tasting notes for each wine added to the ease of selecting an appropriate wine from such a comprehensive list. Lee’s impressive selection landed the restaurant a Wine Spectator Restaurant Award for 2013.  In addition, China's Wine List of the Year Awards recognized the restaurant for having not only the “Best Wine List in Hong Kong - 2013", but also for having the “Best Wine by the Glass List - 2013” for all of China.

While much of the wine is beautifully displayed throughout the restaurant, the complete cellar boasts approximately 15,000 bottles.

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To make matters easy we ordered a nonvintage Brut Champagne –  Bollinger Special Cuvée – a rich Champagne with a hint of baked apple tart, which we enjoyed throughout the evening. Soon, our oysters began to arrive two-by-two.

Oysters in Hong KongSince it was November, we had opted for oysters from the northern hemisphere, particularly the US and France. Had we been visiting in the summer months, we would have looked southward, to Australia and South Africa.

We began with our sole oyster from the United States – the Hammersley Inlets from the southern end of  Washington State’s Puget Sound. These plump, firm, creamy-white oysters were full-flavored with pleasant cucumber finish.  The proved to be a great start to the evening.

Our main focus of the evening was the oyster varieties from southwestern France. We enjoyed the Perle Noires (crisp, sweet and savory, with a slightly metallic finish), Geay (tender, crunchy and salty with a lasting finish), Gillardeau (tender, plump, sweet and slightly salty oysters, with a hint of hazelnut) as well as the Écaille d'Argent (crispy, mildly sweet, and also a hint of hazelnut).

All in all, we enjoyed an amazing array of oysters, thanks in great part to the recommendation and advice we had received from the Oyster Specialists.

Curious to sample some other shellfish before our entrees, we ordered a Queen Seafood Platter ($100 U.S.), which came with North Atlantic lobster, scallops, mussels, clams, crabs and, of course, more oysters! All of the shell fish was just as fresh as the oysters we had enjoyed -- and the presentation was beautiful.

The restaurant offers more than seafood, and Chef Oscar Chow is to be commended for his offerings. At the waiter's suggestion, I ordered a deer medallion special, while my colleague enjoyed a classic Beef Oscar. Both were exceptional, but after all, this blog is about oysters, so enough said.

All in all, dinner – including the Champagne –  was just under $400 (U.S.). An expensive, but worthwhile treat, which I highly recommend.

The Oyster & Wine Bar
Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers
20 Nathan Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Kowloon, Hong Kong
(852) 2369 1111

Oyster House’s Sam Mink: The man knows his oysters

By Rand Hoch, Travel Editor

Sam Mink Oyster HouseSam Mink, a third generation Philadelphia restaurateur, grew up shucking oysters in the Sansom Street Oyster House.

It was expected that Sam would follow his forbears and remain in the business.  But Sam had other things on his mind.  He moved to San Francisco to teach elementary school.  After a few years, he went to culinary school.  

While Sam was out West, the restaurant’s owners floundered (pun intended) and closed it down.  

Oyster House PA
After almost a decade in California, destiny — and a great business opportunity — called Sam back to Philadelphia.  The owner went bankrupt so Sam took over the restaurant, made extensive renovations, and shortened the name to Oyster House.  
His hard work paid off.  Oyster House is once again the premier place for oysters, shellfish and seafood in Philadelphia.  The restaurant offers fresh, seasonal fare, with a California touch.  Sam insists on using local ingredients as much as possible.  

When we made plans with Sam to stop in and chat about oysters, he suggested mid-afternoon, before the regulars fill the raw bar for Oyster House’s daily “Buck-a-Shuck Happy Hour.”

Oyster PlateShortly before 4:00 PM, we found ourselves on the stools at the Oyster House’s marble-topped raw bar.  Located in the middle of the restaurant, the raw bar provided us with a perfect vantage point of the 120-seat restaurant’s interior, as well as the action going on behind the raw bar.  

With a nod to the past, Sam used reclaimed local building materials in the restaurant’s reconstruction.  In addition, the white subway tile walls are decorated with dozens of vintage oyster plates that Sam’s family had collected over the years. 

But we were not there for the decor, or even the incredible selection of seafood. We were there for the oysters.
Oyster Shucking
“Oyster shucking is an art,” Sam told me as we watched Ameen Lawrence, a shucker who has spent 17 years at the restaurant, ply his craft with amazing agility and a great smile.

The selections from Samuels and Son Seafood, and Blue Island Shellfish Farms allow Oyster House to offer an impressive and regularly changing daily selection of at least half a dozen oysters.  

Sam’s oysters hail from along the mid-Atlantic all the way north to New Brunswick.  However, in recognition of the time spent in California, Sam includes at least one West Coast oyster in the restaurant’s daily selection.
Oyster House MenuWhile the restaurant was sold out of Sam’s favorite oysters, Pemaquids from Damariscotta Bay in Maine, here’s what we sampled on that incredible afternoon, in the order of their appearance:

The full-flavored Virginia Chincoteagues were plump, delicate, tender and quite salty at first taste.  However, when I let the oyster linger on my tongue, I noticed a slightly sweet buttery finish.

New Jersey’s tasty Cape May Salts from the Delaware Bay were plump, firm and succulent, with a distinctively salty, yet sweet, flavor.  

The earthy East Beach Blondes from Charlestown, Rhode Island, were well balanced.  Savory, yet briny, with a slight taste of stone fruit.  While I tend to enjoy my oysters naked (the oysters that is, not me), these Blondes fared well with Sam’s mignonette.

New Brunswick’s Little Shemogues were plump and firm. Although set in a salty liquor, these small oysters offered a sweet finish.

Sam’s Malpeques were wild oysters from Prince Edward Island’s Mermaid Cove. These pretty, medium-size oysters, which were not overly salty, offered a clean finish.
Naked Cowboy OystersNaked Cowboys, named after the eponymous Times Square fixture who appears to be wearing only a well-placed guitar are wild oysters from Long Island Sound.  Naked Cowboys seem to be popping up everywhere these days; but it is more than a fun marketing campaign that has led to their popularity. These chewy, meaty oysters taste of minerals and just a touch of brine.  And they give up a uniquely savory finish.

The creamy large Salt Ponds from Point Judith Pond in Rhode Island are plump, robust and complex with flavor. Somehow, their intense salinity and distinct minerality gives way to a very sweet-tasting oyster.
Sam’s West Coast representatives were the diminutive yet dense Shigoku from Willapa Bay in Washington State.   The deep-cupped, firm oysters offer an initial light taste of salt, followed almost immediately by mildly sweet cucumber and melon finish, with a hint of nuttiness.

Last, but never least, we sampled Cape Cod’s always reliable Wellfleets. These large farm-raised oysters are meaty and tender, offering a medium to high level of brininess with a distinctly buttery sweet finish. 

The oysters all paired well with my chilled vodka, but, at Sam’s suggestion, Michael opted for the restaurant’s infamous Mother’s Ruin Punch. Sold by both the glass and the pitcher, the ingredients include a perfect blend of gin, fresh grapefruit, cinnamon tea-infused vermouth, sparkling wine.  Fortunately, Michael opted for a glass (or two).  Otherwise, he may not have been able to finish with the photos — or help describing the perfect selection of oysters offered by Sam Mink at Oyster House.  Go to Oyster House and tell Sam that Rand from Go Shuck An Oyster sent you. 

1516 Sansom St.
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Open Mon-Thu 11:30am-10:00pm
Fri-Sat 11:30am-11:00pm
Closed Sunday

Buck-a-Shuck Happy Hour (Oysters $1 Draft beer and Cocktails $3)
Monday-Friday 5-7pm
Saturday 9-11pm

All above photography by Michael Ira Thayer.

Another major oyster theft reported in Dennis, MA; officials issue warning | CapeCodOnline.com

Another major oyster theft reported in Dennis; officials issue warning

EAST DENNIS, MA – A series of oyster thefts from offshore aquaculture grants has led officials to warn food establishments, particularly raw bars, about serving unregulated shellfish. 

About $40,000 in oysters and equipment has been stolen from the 1-acre shellfish farms on the tidal flats off Crowes Pasture since early last month – the latest early Tuesday. On top of the financial hit for shellfish farmers, the thefts raise questions about loss of control over a food that's tightly regulated for safety. For example, shellfish farmers must tag each bag of oysters with the time and date of harvest. 

“Harvesters and wholesalers have requirements for oyster handling,” said Dennis Health Director Terence Hayes, who was drafting an advisory Tuesday to food establishments. “Both the harvesters and wholesalers have to sell the oysters with tags on them. When we do food inspections at restaurants, we check for those tags.” 

The state Department of Public Health has instituted stiff regulations for handling oysters to prevent the foodborne illness caused by a bacterium called Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Hayes said. When ingested, vibrio causes diarrhea often with abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills. Usually these symptoms occur within 24 hours of ingestion and last three days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Massachusetts regulations, called the Vibrio Control Management Plan, are enforced through close monitoring by local shellfish constables.

Oyster harvesters are required to put the oysters on ice as soon as they are harvested. Receiving dealers must make sure the oysters are cooled to 50 degrees Fahrenheit in a refrigeration unit no later than 10 hours after they are harvested. 

William Zammer, who owns four restaurants on the Cape, said any reputable restaurant owner checks for tags when purchasing shellfish. “You'd be a fool to use oysters that aren't tagged with dates,” Zammer said.  “They'll have to take those oysters out of state,” he said referring to the thieves. But Aaron Brochu, who owns the Big Rock Oyster Co. and lost about 10,000 oysters from his Crowes Pasture grants Tuesday, argued that it wouldn't be difficult to fool a buyer. The tags are easy to get, he said. “You can buy them at the stores or even online,” he said. “They could just take the oysters down to New Bedford.” He is frustrated that the culprits remain at large. “They have to be doing it at low tide and in the dark,” Brochu said. “I'm surprised they're so hard to catch.”

The first of the raids took place the week after Memorial Day when five shellfish farmers lost a total of about 10,000 mature oysters. Last week, James Ward, whose grant is next to Brochu's, lost 40 plastic cages and 12,000 mature oysters. He calculated his loss at about $10,000. Brochu, who oversees two 1-acre grants, has 12 employees who depend on his operation. “I'm their full-time job,” he said. 

Christopher Southwood, the Dennis shellfish constable, said several state agencies have been notified of the thefts. The Harbormaster's Office plans to patrol the Crowes Pasture area more heavily, he said.

When contacted by the Times, the state Department of Public Health's deferred comment to the state Division of Marine Fisheries and the Massachusetts Environmental Police. The fisheries division did not respond to Times inquiries on Tuesday.

Amy Mahler, spokeswoman for the Environmental Police, issued a statement that the agency has had “four reports in 2013 of stolen oysters (from the Cape) and/or associated equipment from private oyster farms. We are actively investigating in cooperation with local authorities.”

Diane Murphy, an aquaculture specialist with the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension and Woods Hole Sea Grant, said shellfish farming is fraught with threats from predators in nature. “It's particularly disappointing to lose oysters to human theft,” Murphy wrote in an email. “Farmers in the intertidal zone typically tend their oysters during low tide but are most vulnerable during low tides at night when thieves are active.”

Copyright © Cape Cod Media Group, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Oysters, Lemons, and Babies

Eventide Portland
I love sharing stories that friends of GoShuckAnOyster.com share with me.

Today I heard from Anthony and Kathryn about Eventide Oyster Co in Portland, Maine.

They told me about the great time they had sampling a large variety of local oysters at Eventide and appreciated that Eventide offered oysters from other regions as well.

Along with the fresh oysters they say, "wash em down with the 'Dirty Dirty Martini' made with vodka, olive brine, oyster brine, and hot sauce".

They also wanted to share two important tips with our readers:

1.  Arrive early in the night as the bar area fills up fast;

2.  If you bring your babies, introduce them to lemons!  Here are the before and after photos of 7 month old twins, Jack and Henry, tasting lemons for the first time:

Maybe next time they'll try an oyster?!

Eventide Oyster Co in Portland, Maine is a must try for anyone looking for a great oyster eating experience.  When you go, tell them Anthony and Kathryn from GoShuckAnOyster.com sent you. 

Share your stories, pictures, and videos with us for a chance to be featured on our blog. Email us at josh@goshuckanoyster.com.

Looking for an oyster shucking knife, click here.
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Oysters Help Raise Money for Down Syndrome

Join GoShuckAnOyster.com staff as we bring our families to enjoy $1.25 oysters in Foxboro Massachusetts to support Down Syndrome and Team 21 at the Rock-N-Dock Festival during May 30 - June 2, 2013.

This is a great event for children and parents who love dogs. Come see dogs compete in Big Air®,  Extreme Vertical™ and Speed Retrieve™. 

About the Event:
This DockDogs® competition, which is being hosted by Bass Pro Shops, is free to the public. Food, vendors and activities will be a part of the 4-day festival. Families with children and dogs are welcome to come and enjoy the festivities!  The hours are Thursday from 4:00pm – 8:00pm, Friday 9:30am - 8:00pm, Saturday 9:30am - 4:00pm and Sunday 9:30am - 5:00pm.

Massachusetts Raw Bar
Will there be oysters at the event?
Yes. Big Rock Oyster Company will be onsite shucking and selling oysters and littlenecks.   Big Rock Oyster Company is located in East Dennis, Massachusetts.  Big Rock provides oysters to some of the finest restaurants in Massachusetts including Island Creek Oyster Bar and Legal Seafoods.  Big Rock also provides raw bars to events throughout Massachusetts.  You may pre-order oysters to pick up and take home.

What is a Rock-N-Dock Festival?2nd Annual Rock-N-Dock Festival
The festival will feature an exciting outdoor DockDogs® competition on all four days. DockDogs® is the world’s premier canine aquatics competition, with dogs from all over the country competing in three different categories: Big Air®,  Extreme Vertical™ and Speed Retrieve™. The dog with the highest combination of scores in all three categories will earn the title of Iron Dog. All three current world record holding dogs will compete at the Rock-N-Dock festival. These high-flying competing dogs can jump lengths up to thirty feet and over eight feet high!

What is Team 21?
Team21 is a Stoughton-based non-profit organization whose mission is to raise awareness about the importance of early intervention programs in helping children with Down Syndrome live their fullest lives. Proceeds from the Rock-n-Dock Festival will benefit Team21Children’s Hospital Boston Down Syndrome Programs and the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress.
Bass Pro Shops Logo
The event and the oysters will be next to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA in front of the Bass Pro Shop.  Plenty of free parking is available.  Dogs allowed.

Learn more at www.GoTeam21.org or contact Dave Skoletsky at dave.skoletsky@gmail.com or 508-444-8878.  Tell him Josh from Go Shuck An Oyster sent you.

Some information in this post is from http://blog.dockdogs.com/2013/01/15/jumping-up-for-down-syndrome-4-day-festival-featuring-national-dockdogs-competition/

Choose an Oyster book for your next Book Club book

Rachel's favorite books (and one DVD) about oysters. Impress your next book club.
One of my favorite books of all time, about a young magazine writer who puts her life on hold to work at a Duxbury oyster farm, deep in the trenches and freezing-cold winters, of Island Creek's oyster beds. Erin, the writer, smartly incorporates neat oyster farming facts and even a little oyster science into her story. And great recipes too!!

This story is about a Texas dude who travels around the world tasting oysters. Must be nice. But an entertaining and educational story, and an enjoyable and fun read.

All I thought about was how absolutely amazing the research for this book must have been. Rowan Jacobsen, the author, travels worldwide and tastes oysters across the globe. A must-read for the oyster fan who wants to broaden her horizons. I brought the book with me to the Island Creek Oyster Bar to do some reading about the menu! 

This guy is a professional oyster competition shucker. Awesome. And he writes about shucking, oyster bars, and a some oyster history.

Another book by Rowan, although not exclusively about oysters, you read about farms across North and South America and how they have conditions that can produce the best-of-the-best because the earth and the ecosystem provide perfect conditions for producing the food. Your mouth will be watering. My husband and I seriously considered devoting part of our lawn to finding out what our terroir could grow.

This is a beautiful book about history of oysters and farming in the Northwest United States. A well-done book with pictures too.

 oyster documentary
SHELLSHOCKED: Saving Oyster to Save Ourselves
This is an independent film about oysters and the environment. Oysters clean the water and provide a nice habitat for hundreds of species. So basically oysters are a building block for marine life. The film is about using oysters to improve the polluted waters of New York bay. Proceeds from the purchase of the film go to the restoration project.  Purchase the DVD here.  Read more here.

Compiled by Rachel H.  Ravenous reader. Perfectionist oyster-shucker.  She is so cool she serves her oysters on shaved ice, using a snow cone machine.

For an oyster shucking knife, click here.
For an oyster shucking glove, click here.

Big Rock Oyster Farmer Jim Ferry in Wall Street Journal

Congratulations to our friend "Oyster Jim" of Big Rock Oyster Company:

Learn more about Big Rock Oyster Company online at www.bigrockoyster.com