In case you missed it, New York Oyster Week was a celebration of the oyster's considerable and extraordinary role in the history, culture, cuisine, economy and ecology of New York. Each September, New York Oyster Week presents opportunities to gather and enjoy oysters in exciting and engaging events of all sizes and shapes. Events are created to cater to the tastes and geographies of enthusiasts and the curious alike. The Rockaways held its first Oyster Fest on September 18th on Beach 116th Street.
London Lennie’s took part at this fest holding a daily Slurp-off competition culminating in a Slurp-Off All Star Championship during the Oyster Bar Bash. The other half of the Oyster week experience took place in an impressive collection of distinguished New York City restaurants including London Lennie’s. Located at 66-88 Woodhaven Blvd. in Rego Park this well-known restaurant has been owned by the Barnes family since 1959.
I popped in there to speak with Mark Connery, who has been their General Manager for the last 11 years. We first chatted about the oysters of which they normally have 8 different ones daily and changing each day. They have a fish buyer who goes to the market and chooses the best. If you sidle up to the bar, you can view each of the group of oysters surrounded by crushed ice. “I wouldn’t recommend getting oysters that are already shucked”, said Mark.
Oysters come from both the East and West Coast. On this particular day the raw bar menu had: Conway Royals (PEI); Blackberry Point (PEI); Onset (MA); Rocky Nook (MA); Standish Shore (MA), Wild Wellfleet (MA): and Glidden Bay XL, (ME). I found the Conway to be briny and salty, but fine. The only one that I didn’t care for was the Glidden Bay in its brininess. It’s the waters that the oysters are taken from that determine their taste. The size of the oyster does not determine the flavor.
The local Blue Point from Long Island is quite popular. These and ones from Virginia are used for many of their cooked Oyster Specials such as the creamy oyster stew that has a slight kick of cayenne. It is served with the original recipe oyster crackers. Would you expect anything else? Then there was the Grilled Oysters with fresh herb, garlic, butter, romano cheese and seasoned bread crumbs. Chef Jeff told me that he makes use of large and meaty oysters as they hold up better when cooked.
Enough with the oysters, let’s get to their yearly Crabfest. You can’t miss knowing when it’s happening as a huge blown up crab sits upon the roof, let alone the displayed banners. It begins during the middle of October.
Alaska tells you when you can go out into their waters to get the famous Alaskan King Crabs. They control the quota as well. Mark says that the ones in Dutch Harbor are not as salty as some of the other locations as the processing does not happen in salt water. You can see view them in a tank located at the retail area. When purchased, you get the entire crab. If you want the crab legs, they are pre-cooked and frozen, like any other restaurant.
My favorite is the Dungeness Crab, also from the West Coast. They are large and unlike King Crabs, there is much meat in the body. A similar crab which can be passed off as is the East Coast Jonah Crab. Florida has its Stone Crabs of which people tend to eat the claws and knuckles. They are also pre-cooked and frozen. I don’t have much patience for the small Maryland crabs of which the pre-packed meat tends to be used in making crab cakes. I do love them when they are “soft-shell” as I can eat the whole crab without having to pick out the meat.
Let’s get back to the retail area. Here is the place to buy sushi grade fish such as tuna, salmon, and yellowtail. Buy it when you expect to eat it the same day. It is not necessarily the same fish used at sushi restaurants of which many are first treated and frozen. Put it in the frig over ice. Have it sashimi style or create your own maki rolls.