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As these last few weeks of winter melt away, I’ve been enjoying some of my favorite seasonal comfort foods. From the many bowls of meatballs I’ve taste tested ‘round town, to the root vegetables I’ve roasted in every size and knotty shape, hearty fare is Winter’s signature, and it is made all the more desirable when the weather is in the single digits. That said, ever since our incomparably private Valentine’s Day dinner of incompetently rolled sushi for two, Mr. Mix and I have been on a seafood kick. And seafood in this season can only mean one thing—shellfish.
A few weeks back, before enjoying April Bloomfield’s decadent duck fat fries at The Breslin, Mr. Mix and I popped the cork on our night right next door at the newly re-opened John Dory Oyster Bar. Their oyster happy hour–half a dozen oysters plus a can of beer or glass of prosecco for $15–is a steal worth the wait. This spot is a total scene, so you’ll have plenty of time to people watch as you decide whether to opt for local East Coast bivalves or venture out West. I, of course, went West, but Mr. Mix kept it close to home. Instead of the traditional sherry mignonette with bits of shallot bobbing on the surface, the ever-innovative Ms. Bloomfield serves her oysters with tangy pickle brine. I love anything pickled, especially the whiskey shots served at the bar(!), but this bit of flavor packed punch threatens to overtake all taste of oyster, so as good as it is, I recommend sticking with a more classic pairing of shellfish, lemon and salt.
It’s true that as few as two years ago, I didn’t much care for raw oysters, preferring instead, the B-lo variety: breaded and deep-fried. But then, in an attempt to prove my gastronomical grit, I went traipsing across the city with an ex, who if for no better purpose, served to peak my interest in mollusks. I was tempted, but remained skeptical. Some say raw oysters are an aphrodisiac, and after an avid two years of testing and one very compelling dinging companion to test alongside, I now I know this to be true–it just took the right teacher to show me!
Mr. Mix loves his seafood. Along with uni and lobster, oysters complete the trio of his top three favorite foods. In fact, it was our shared shellfish love that brought us together when we met knee deep in the murky Hampton Bay waters so many moons ago. Most New Yorkers spend their weekends in the Hamptons tanning, dining, and splurging on luxury. We spent it with slime between our toes and translucent jellyfish stinging our thighs, while raking the sea bottom floor in search of clams. To some, this would prove a fishy start to a romance; to me it proved a perfect foodie first course.
There’s an oldwives tale that advises not to eat oysters in months without an “R” in their spelling. It’s not entirely untrue. This warning was introduced by American Indians generations ago, and has become only somewhat outdated due to advancements in commercial fishing regulations. The truth remains that in those R-less months of sunshine (May, June, July and August), algae collects along the coastline and can spread toxins to shellfish. The summer is also when oysters spawn–and a fertile oyster becomes an unappetizingly soft texture, if you can call the texture of an in-season oyster appetizing. For me, that’s a stretch. Frankly, I just slurp the suckers down and try not to think about the mucusy things they remind me of. For my mixologist, I think it’s a turn on. But for our mutual benefit, I think it’s a good thing we still have two months of “R’s” to practice our oral oyster fixations.
Perhaps my favorite place in the city to squash my shellfish fix is at the Union Square Farmers’ Market. The P.E. & D.D. Fish Stand in the Square, is the spot for bivalves of all varieties. It’s there that I pick up craggy creatures to bring home to my man for shucking and satisfying our shellfish cravings, and it’s also there that I swing by the produce stands to grab the makings for a sautéed winter salad of kale and garlic to gobble up alongside our catch. If I’m feeling flush, I’ll stop into Union Square Wines on my home to pick us up a bottle of bubbly.
Next up on my seasonal winter seafood menu? Moules frites. Belgian bistro food at its best, this is a dish served simply with fresh, bearded mussels, plenty of parsley, chives and garlic, and a hefty splash of white wine or a bottle of a strong Belgian beer. My dad taught me to enjoy these black treasures of the sea before I actually had any concept of what I was eating, and what I figured out then and remains true today, is that my very favorite part isn’t actually the creamy creatures inside their shells; it’s the bites of crusty bread that soak up the all the sauce that makes these mollusks a steamy meal of seasonal and superlative proportion.