New York City is a great place for raw bar and fried oysters. As delicious as these oyster preparations are, other classic and interesting preparations shouldn’t be missed. Take the Hangtown Fry, an oyster and bacon omelette made famous in California during the Gold Rush. Its origin is one of those epic food myths.
It starts in a place forty miles east of Sacramento that was called Dry Diggins until three desperadoes were hanged from the town’s giant oak tree, after which it became Hangtown. Supposedly, in 1849 a miner who had found gold walked into the El Dorado Hotel across the street from the tree and asked the bartender for the most expensive meal possible. The result was a combination of bacon from the East, eggs from the coast and oysters that had been packed on ice and brought in from the San Francisco Bay.
The dish outlasted the town’s name and the hotel. Today, Hangtown is known as Placerville, and the El Dorado was replaced in 1857 after burning down a year before, by the The Cary House Hotel, which still stands. Allegedly one of the only places in town to regularly serves the Hangtown Fry is Chuck’s Restaurant. But that’s okay because you don’t have to go to California to strike culinary gold.
The John Dory’s rendition has to rank up there with the city’s best egg dishes. Eggs are creamy. Bacon is substituted with a thick prosciutto that has the texture of tender corned beef. Slices of pickled jalapeño add bursts of a light vinegary flavor and heat also spread throughout the dish. The oysters are only slightly cooked. The pooled flavors lining the plate’s bottom when you finish are worth wiping up with the delicious Parker House rolls.
The Hangtown Fry is just one of New York City’s many notable oyster dishes on the following Oyster Odyssey that a true bivalve-lover should try to check off their list.
Prune’s oyster omelette and Pearl’s fried oyster roll.
What’s better than fried oysters? Fried oysters with other good stuff.
Prune’s brunch features a Fried Oyster Omelette with Rémoulade Sauce. The dish needs salt, but it’s still tasty, the rémoulade is good and the side of sauce, Tabasco and confectioner’s sugar, while weird, is worth tasting.
Pearl Oyster Bar’s lobster roll isn’t their dish with a top-loading Pepperidge Farm bun. The lesser-known Fried Oyster Roll with Tartar Sauce and Shoestring Fries (served only at lunch) is exactly what it sounds like: a heaping pile of fried oysters stuffed in bread. Try this food challenge: eating it like a sandwich without dropping an oyster.
Shaffer City’s oyster martini and Mari Vanna’s oysters and caviar.
Shaffer City Oyster Bar & Grill The Oyster Martini is not on the menu but the bartenders will happily make you one. Depending on the liquor you choose and whether it’s happy hour (oysters $1.50/each) it can cost anywhere from $10.50 to $19. Time your drink to chef/owner Jay Shaffer’s presence. You don’t have to twist his arm to get a good story (profile).
Mari Vanna Oysters. Caviar. Anything else need to be said?
PJ Clarke’s oysters Rockefeller.
PJ Clarke’s Oysters Rockefeller may or may not have been invented at Antoine’s in New Orleans, but PJ Clarke’s makes a great, cheesy rendition (the ones at NYY Steak are also very good).
Marea’s yellowfish tuna with crispy artichokes and oyster cream and Per Se’s “Oysters and Pearls.”
Marea Chef Michael White’s crudos are impressively fresh and notable for the restraint with which they’re seasoned and dressed. That said, the Tonno (Yellowfish tuna with crispy artichokes, $16) sits on top of a delicate oyster cream that adds to the natural flavors of the fish.
Per Se Completing this oyster checklist will require eating the opening salvo of Per Se’s tasting menu, as Chef Thomas Keller’s famous dish “Oysters and Pearls,” a “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar, is not available à la carte on the Salon Menu.
Fatty Crab’s pig trotter with oyster bahn mi and The John Dory’s oyster pan roast with sea urchin butter crostini.
Fatty Crab’s Pig Trotter with Oysters Banh Mi special is currently off the menu, but the Upper West Side location usually has some kind of oyster bahn mi featuring Malpeques or Price Edward Island Oysters. Currently, the special is Banh Mi with Pulled Bo Bo Chicken, Pickles, Mortadella and Oysters ($12).
The John Dory Full circle. An Oyster Pan Roast is a simple dish (oysters, cream and toast) and this one would be the extremely satisfying beginning of a great fall meal.