The New York Times, November 14, 2014

Raw Bars Thriving in Season Purdy's Farmer & the Fish

With the days growing shorter and colder, we are reminded that the darkness and the falling temperature are the price we pay for living in the beautiful Northeast. Yet at this time of year, oyster lovers rejoice. Restaurants with raw bars bustle at their blackboards, chalking up the oysters of the moment and standing by to add the names of those that will soon be ready for harvest.

The oyster is a complex animal. Those that adorn our tables have been plucked from the season’s increasingly cold waters of the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. An oyster’s taste comes from its terroir — that is, its environment, its food, water salinity and temperature, which can vary from year to year.

Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) are generally brinier, flatter and firmer than other oysters, the shells smooth from lolling in the deep waters of the Atlantic. The Crassostrea gigas of the West Coast are smaller, sweeter, rounder and prettier in their deep-cupped ruffly shells, fluted from tumbling in the shallower and more turbulent waters of the Pacific.

Oysters are full of vitamins and minerals, but we eat them because they taste good.

And though eating them is certainly not a difficult affair, perhaps some tips are in order.

Approach an offering of oysters slowly. Note their arrangement on the ice bed, the shape of the shell’s border, the iridescent whites and pinks of the shell’s interior. Chug down an oyster and you’ll probably taste only the salinity, wonderful as that is. But slurp the oyster off the half-shell, let your mouth blend it a bit and then chew it, and more flavors will be released.

Sauces should be applied sparingly, as grace notes intended to enhance and not to overpower an oyster’s flavor. Neat is fine; a few drops from a cut of lemon, great. Usually a sauce or two will accompany a plateful of oysters, and it is best to first test a bit on the tines of a fork. You probably don’t want a hefty dose of horseradish in the cocktail sauce or an acidic vinegar in the mignonette.

As for a beverage to accompany the oysters, water, light beers and cheap white wines like Pinot Blanc or even prosecco are all good choices.

There are many kinds of oysters to sample. Blue Points from New York and Connecticut waters appear on many area menus throughout the season. Also available are easy-to-love Malpeques from Prince Edward Island and nearly everybody’s favorite, sweet buttery Kumamotos from the West Coast.

And there is no shortage of places to find them. Here is a by-no-means-exhaustive list in Westchester County:

PURDY’S FARMER AND THE FISH, 100 Titicus Road, North Salem; 914-617-8380.

Oyster lovers jam the bar at Purdy’s Farmer and the Fish. During a recent visit, this restaurant offered 17 varieties. Turnover and freshness go hand in hand, and this oyster bar sells about 4,000 oysters a week at $2.50 each. Many are from the Atlantic coast: rich, smooth Moonstones; plump, juicy Onsets; big Barnstables with a nutty flavor and a crunchy texture; and sweet, silky Summersides, to name a few in the rotation. From the Pacific Coast, sweet, meaty little Kusshis have become increasingly popular. And there is the bargain to be had at the bar, where, all day every day, six Blue Points and a glass of wine or beer cost $8.

Written by M. H. Reed on November 14, 2014
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