Thursday, April 25, 2013

Shuck Oyster Bar - 04/14/2013

3313 Hyland Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(949) 420-0478

I'd heard about Shuck before but it was only after a ringing endorsement from Jason Quinn, the chef at Playground that I actually gave any serious thought to trying the place. Founded by Leonard Chen and Noah Blom, Shuck's point of differentiation is their direct relationship with oyster farmers. This means their oysters arrive within 2-3 days of being harvested instead of a week or more it would take when going through a distributor. As a result, Shuck offers the largest selection of oysters that I've ever seen though only 10 or so are ever in stock at any one time. Naturally I wanted to try every oyster available, but our shucker offered to do an oyster "omakase" of sorts, throwing a few unlisted oysters that he thought we might enjoy.

Oysters - Wellfleet, Kusshi
The oysters come with grated horseradish, hot sauce, and mignonette but I found they were best enjoyed neat or perhaps with a drop of lemon juice. An East Coast oyster from Massachusetts, the Wellfleets were dense with a firm muscular bite and pleasantly balanced brine. Kusshi's are one of my all-time favorite oyster varieties and these little gems were no different, perhaps a touch heavier on the salt that I was expecting but still clean and sweet on the finish.

Oysters - Stingray, Hurricane, Hama Hama, Plymouth
The Stingrays are a Virginia river oyster raised in a bay that opens into the Chesapeake. The freshwater influence gives the oysters a lower salt content than most resulting in a clean, mild, and meaty bivalve. True to their name Hurricane oysters from PEI have a violently deep flavor of the sea. Shuck favors younger Hama Hamas, around 7mos instead of the 2-3 years they normally grow for; this results in a more concentrated flavor as well as a suppler texture. The Plymouths were the first of the special oysters and the best of this quartet. Grown near Plymouth Rock, these oysters have a strong briny character on the attack that evolves into a nuanced fruity sweetness.

Oysters - Blue Pool, East Beach Blonde, Naked Cowgirl
Our final trio of oysters was supposed to be the most flavorful. We started with the Blue Pools, briny with a deep vegetal bitterness, with a texture that is by turns snappy and creamy. The East Beach Blondes from Rhode Island had a keen salinity but remained clean and sweet unlike the Blue Pools. Our second unlisted oyster was the Naked Cowgirl, a new type of oyster grown in Totten Inlet, Washington from the farm that produces the Naked Cowboy Oysters in New York. Having had two bad experiences with Naked Cowboys I was a bit apprehensive but these were fantastic; showing a gentle melon-y sweetness and lingering creamy twang on the finish these were easily the best oysters of the night.

Oyster Po' Boy
I really thought I'd like this more than I did. The oysters were nicely fried but when taken together the dark sauce seemed to muddle the flavors of the slaw and oysters into one undifferentiated mess. I would have liked a mayo-based slaw to add some moisture to the dish without compromising the integrity of the sandwich.

Clam Chowder
Our server claimed that their chef, Noah, adhered to a classic roux based recipe for his clam chowder but I found the soup a bit thin. Further confusing matters was the soup's yellowish cast and subtle curry and lemongrass flavors that were all eerily reminiscent of Tom Kha.

Grilled Cheese
Of the hot foods this was the only dish we had that really resonated with me. The hollow crunch of the toast coupled with the gooey zest of the grilled cheese conveys an endearing sense of comfort and satisfaction.

Shuck pretty much met my expectations on all counts. The cooked food wasn't anything to write home about, but if you're like me and suffer periodic debilitating cravings for oysters then Shuck will fit the bill quite nicely. Fair warning, at $3 a pop satisfying that oyster lust can get expensive fast.


sygyzy said...

I love me some oysters but I am surprised an oyster bar (especially a premium one that charges $3 a pop) can survive in Southern California. DC? Boston? Sure. I would say I am on the upper levels of my love for oysters but I don't know anyone, personally, that feels the same way. Even my "foodie" friends will just tolerate them or eat a few. Some have to really be nudged.

Epicuryan said...

When I was there on Sunday night there was only one other couple which had me wondering about the place's longevity too.

Our server told us that they can sell 2,000 oysters on a busy day which I equated to Friday and Saturday, but the rest of the week their business varies pretty dramatically.

Michael said...

I am allergic to this post.

Epicuryan said...

Just bring an epi pen and shoot up between oysters

Anonymous said...

some of the pacific oysters have mud worms. harmless but i can't enjoy oysters anymore.

Epicuryan said...

Haha that is pretty disturbing but like the guy in the video I don't think its enough to make me stop especially because all my favorite oysters are Pacific varieties.

Anonymous said...

I was here this past Saturday, $3 an oyster was pretty high but they were delicious.

Epicuryan said...

Agreed. The quality is top notch but the price keeps this from being a regular spot to satisfy my oyster fix.