Oysters: raw revival

by Catherine Shaw
Oysters: raw revival
By Catherine Shaw

What is it about an oyster that inspires such gourmand passion? On first examination (don’t get too close, live oysters have an unfortunate habit of “spitting”) it sports an ugly, difficult-to-open shell while the oyster’s texture is best described as slimy. Add high cost and horror stories of bacterial poisoning and one wonders how the mollusk has maintained an exalted position as the most tender and delicate of seafood, not to mention its long association with luxury.

But eating a fresh oyster is a lesson in contrasts as that first slightly unpleasant mucus-like texture immediately gives way to the addictively fresh rich flavor of the sea. You can practically hear the seagulls screeching and waves crashing as you reach for a second and a third.

The good news for Tokyo gourmands is that oysters, long passed over in Japan for their more aesthetically pleasing sashimi and sushi counterparts, are enjoying a revival with menus to suit all budgets. While the cooler months usually signal the start of oyster season, the folklore that says that oysters should only be eaten in months with an “r” in them is no longer strictly true thanks to recent improvements in farming and refrigeration. Having said that, experts contend that oysters do tend to have a fuller, richer flavor in the winter while summer months are more suited to cooking.

wifm_autumn09_low-95Fresh oysters have always been one of the best-selling delicacies at Two Rooms in Aoyama. “We are a seasonal produce-driven restaurant so our plump, briny oysters are taken in season from all around the world,” explains chef Matthew Crabbe. Oysters tend to come from Australia, America and Japan but sometimes include premium Irish and Canadian oysters. Two Rooms’ oysters are served on a bed of rock salt accompanied by Two Rooms’ original spicy Bloody Mary Sauce (available to take away) and a wedge of lemon, or Two Room’s version of Kilpatrick oysters.

One of the best value oyster offers is at Hilton Tokyo’s Marble Lounge Lunch and Brunch Buffet where fresh oysters from around the world are served with classic crushed ice, hot chili sauce or sliced lemon. Flavored salts and vinegars are also available. Cooked oysters gratin-style is available at Checkers, the hotel’s casual dinner buffet restaurant that has a reasonably priced wine buffet facilitating pairing of oysters with wines from different regions.

Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant in Shinagawa is a local version of New York’s landmark oyster bar with modern Americanstyle interiors and well-priced oysters. The à la carte menu includes American, Australian, Irish and Japanese raw oysters priced per piece. Alternatively, splash out on the popular 12-piece raw oyster platter.

Raw and cooked oysters from Hokkaido, Iwate and Miyagi feature on the menu at Nishi Azabu’s Water Grill Oyster Bar keeping oysterphiles happy year-round. The wine list provides useful recommendations for pairing with the oyster’s delicate flavors.

If planning a fashionably retro oyster party at home, there is no better source than Tsukiji Market. Live oysters keep well in the refrigerator for a week. Store in a bowl covered with a damp cloth and once opened, consume as soon as possible. A favorite oyster drink involves placing a fresh oyster in a shot glass, adding a dash of Two Room’s cocktail sauce, a tiny taste of fresh horseradish and topping it all with jalapeño vodka. Drink like a shooter.

Two Rooms
03-3498-0002 www.tworooms.jp

Marble Lounge
Tel: 03-3344-5111 www.hilton.com

Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant
Tel: 03-6717-0932 www.oysterbartokyo.com

Water Grill Oyster Bar
03-5766-3700 www.oysterbar.co.jp

Tsukiji Market www.tsukiji-market.or.jp