Overwhelmed by Oysters

“This is what our heaven looks like,” we murmured upon entering Oyster Riot X, greeted by rows upon rows of gleaming oysters. The gentleman in front of us turned and smiled, and nodded in mutual bliss.

Heavenly it may be, but nerves of steel are required to survive the Old Ebbitt’s Oyster Riot. With 20 varietals of oysters (some 2,000 total), 10 award-winning wines, and 400 wine contenders, not to mention waiters passing around such delicacies are oysters wrapped in bacon, oysters rockerfeller, fried oyster stew, and more, it was an amazing display of decadence and I can’t believe my friend and I survived the night.

Simply put, we’re oyster freaks. We’ve been known to put back four dozen at Oceanaire. Each. As a New Englander I was practically weaned on oysters. My friend Gina is allergic to all shellfish except the delectable oyster, sending her into complete paroxysms of delight when she sees one. So this event was to be our Nirvana…

This was the tenth year of the Oyster Riot, held Friday and Saturday from 6:30-9:30pm in the atrium of the Old Ebbitt. Tickets typically go on sale in September, and were $80. Upon entry you get a wristband, a glass, a plate, and the all-important map. Then you dive into the extremely crowded fray, moving from selection to selection until you hit oyster overload. There’s a lot of elbowing, unfortunately, but I think that just goes with the territory of a Washingtonian event.

First to run out, at around 8:20pm, were the tiny succulent Kumamoto and Olympia – perhaps because they carried the most name recognition, or perhaps because we heard several people erroneously refer to the Kumamoto** as the “Japanese oyster” causing a buzz of excitement (they’re both from Washington State, but I guess that wasn’t as sexy-sounding). Or maybe people caught on that these are the most delicious little cups of briny cream you will ever taste…

In any event, the fact that they ran out sent us into a tailspin, a mad panic, as we realized our methodical plan of first trying every single varietal and then going back for more of our favorites had a flaw – it didn’t take into account the supply/demand desires of others. Ah well. In all we consumed about three dozen each, a respectable amount! Our favorites of the night were: Duck Island Petite (NY), Moonstone (RI), Flying Point (ME), Totten Inlet (WA), Olympia (WA), and Kumamoto (WA). Flying Point had the best shucker, the gregarious Herb, who was the only one able to completely release the oyster from both sides of the shell (incredibly important if you like to suck them down off the shell with the brine).

A few things mystified us about the crowd. Several people got their “goody box” of shrimp and crab claws well before they left and were seen wasting valuable elbow space standing around eating them. Just take them home, please. Then there were the people who stood with vapid expressions smack-dab in front of the oyster selections, refusing to move and seriously impeding flow. With the shuckers moving at a mile a minute keeping the oysters in plentiful supply, these idiots infuriated us beyond belief. Stack your plate, retreat, swallow, repeat. How hard is that?

All in all, I’m glad I finally went to the Oyster Riot. I’m not sure I would go again, a bit too crowded for me, but I think it’s worth it for novices who want to dive into the oyster world and get a fun overview of different varietals and wine pairings.

The commemorative t-shirt says it best: “Eating an oyster is like french-kissing a mermaid”…

**Note: For a good overview of the history of the Kumamoto and its Japanese origins (but Japanese no longer), see this article…

2 Comments so far

  1. Glenn (unregistered) on November 21st, 2005 @ 11:44 am

    I’m an oyster freak as well but, sadly, I found out about this too late.

    My mother will be visiting next month and I plan to take her to Oceanaire. So yeah, dozens.


  2. Jenn L (unregistered) on November 21st, 2005 @ 12:01 pm

    Sorry you missed it!! It sells out really quickly. You can get on their mailing list on the website, or just be religious about checking next year – they usually go on sale in September after Labor Day.

    Anyway, you know you’ll have a great time at Oceanaire… :)



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