Restaurant News

Oyster Doomsday! Where to Get Them in Phoenix Before They're Gone

The end is nigh. Doomsday is upon us! The Apocalypse has begun - for oysters, at least.

Scientists recently declared wild oysters functionally extinct. 85 percent of the reefs they live on have disappeared due to disease or over-harvesting.

Luckily for Americans, 75 percent of the world's remaining wild oysters can be found here, and luckily for Phoenicians, some of the best restaurants in town have the tasty mollusks on their menus. So get them before they're gone.

J&G Steakhouse at the Phoenician is one of those restaurants. They feature a raw bar with East and West Coast oysters for $2.95 each, or two oysters come as part of the Chilled Shellfish Platter.

While Chef Jacques Qualin prefers the clean, briny flavors of West Coast oysters with "just with a squeeze of lemon and super cold served on chilled ice," J&G offers them with Mignonnette, cocktail sauce and Tabasco.

Although oysters are most often serve raw, Qualin says his favorite way to cook them is on the grill with a touch of soy ginger dressing.

Never had an oyster before? That's okay, because Chef Aaron May from Mabel's on Main captures them perfectly. "They are the quintessential harvest of the sea, offering a burst of salinity, the taste and smell of the ocean," he says. "Even a novice oyster fan can appreciate how perfectly oysters evoke the ocean."

He also says that it's really easy to tell if an oyster isn't fresh. "A fresh oyster looks moist and gives off a clean, briny smell and taste. Old oysters look dry, and they smell bad."

Chef Qualin describes 10 different kinds of oysters, their intricacies in flavor and appearance - from the Carlsbad Luna oyster, which has "the flavor of crisp melon with a salty cold finish" to the Malpeque oyster. "Because the water is so cold in Malpeque Bay (Prince Edward Island, Canada), this oyster is extremely salty. The meat has a very crisp, lettuce like flavor with a clean aftertaste," he says.

The differences in flavor come from the coldness of the water, the water pollution content (oysters are very sensitive to pollution) and nutrient and plankton levels in the water. Most oysters are not actually of the wild persuasion, but rather are farm-raised in cold coastal waters.

J&G will have four to six varieties on the raw bar depending on availability and season.

Mabel's on Main features the classic dish, Oysters Rockefeller - which is traditionally topped with green herbs, butter and bread crumbs then baked, but there are many different takes on the traditional.

"Rockefeller is such a rich, luxurious preparation, and it matched well with what we wanted to create at Mabel's, a Mid-Century hideaway that captures the old-fashioned 'swankiness' of the era," says May. "We serve the dish year round, with different oyster varietals swapped out based on freshness and availability."

If you're looking for something less swanky, this Tempe favorite has oysters in its name. Casey Moore's Oyster House has fresh oysters on the half shell as well as Oysters Rockefeller.

One can't talk about seafood in this town without mentioning the Salt Cellar. This ocean fare institution has Blue Point oysters on the half shell served on ice and Oysters Rockefeller. Their take on the traditional features spinach and pernod sauce, which is then baked on rock salt.

For some Sinaloan-style Mexican flare, try Marisco's Playa Hermosa where they serve either a dozen or half dozen oysters on the half shell.

Wildfish Seafood Grille hosts a similar raw oyster bar to that of J&G's, but they offer North Atlantic and North Pacific varieties.

It's impossible to leave out Asian cuisine when it comes to seafood. Nobou at Teeter House has a dish called Kumamoto Oysters with Uni, which is served with sweet tomato water and wasabi oil.

Uni is the Japanese name for the editable part of a sea urchin, and Chef Qualin describes this type of oyster by saying: "This small, deeply cupped oyster is named for its bay where they originated on the Japanese island Kyushu...Even though they require several years to grow to size, their salty, sweet flavor makes up for what they lack in size. True Kumamotos are somewhat rare in the everyday oyster bar due to their popularity and difficulty to grow, but they are very well worth the efforts. Their size and great flavor make them a favorite for beginning oyster eaters."

For being landlocked - in a desert no less-, Phoenix has a strong variety of excellent oyster dishes, and with their imminent doom pressing closer by the day, maybe it's time to try some.

If you're scared to suck the sliminess from its shell, Chef May says you don't know what you're missing, but he won't twist your arm. "It leaves more of these endangered treats for the rest of us," he says.

Restaurant Rundown

J&G Steakhouse, 6000 E. Camelback Rd. in Scottsdale.

Mabel's on Main, 7018 E. Main St. in Scottsdale.

Casey Moore's Oyster House, 850 S. Ash Ave. in Tempe.

Salt Cellar, 550 N. Hayden Rd. in Scottsdale.

Marisco's Playa Hermosa, 1605 E. Garfield St. in Phoenix.

Wildfish Seafood Grille, 7135 E. Camelback Rd, #130 in Scottsdale.

Nobou at Teeter House, 622 E. Adams St. in Phoenix.

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Megan Dobransky
Contact: Megan Dobransky