A few weeks ago we had dinner at Nathan’s in Slidell, a place we rarely go any more, but we have great memories of good meals and even better Eat Clubs there.
It was there that we had an oyster dish that really got our attention. It is hard to stop us in our tracks where oysters are concerned, because we have seen countless oyster dishes. Oysters, as you have likely heard, are Tom's favorite food. No contest.
Since I’ve seen nearly every iteration of the mollusk, I was surprised to be surprised. And we were. Delighted too.
It started me thinking of terrific preparations of oysters around town.
Tom’s favorite is Oysters Arnaud at its namesake restaurant. It is a baked collection of the usual suspects and a few more. Presented prettily on a bed of rock salt in a large dish, there are Rockefeller, Bienville, Kathryn (named for Archie Casbarian’s daughter and featuring artichoke hearts) Suzette, (made with bacon), and Ohan,which contains eggplant and is named for theCasbarian family patriarch.
This is indeed a special oyster creation, but it is hardly the only great one in town. Another is the brainchild of the Pat Gallagher of four eponymous restaurants. Oysters Pablo is Tom’s second favorite, and it is distinctive indeed. Made with a spinach base and a blanket of melted Parmesan cheese, the odd ingredient that sets this one apart is Tequila. Yes, Tequila.
Rizzuto’s in Bucktown offers a great hybrid of baked and chargrilled with artichoke which tends toward the Italian baked oysters.
Ah, the Italian baked oysters! There are some delectable Italian oyster dishes around town. Starting with the runner’s up, Oyster Pan Roast at Pascal’s Manale is exactly what it says, though you don’t believe it. The word roast makes me think of meat, but this is simply oysters roasted in the oven in a pan, with Italian breadcrumbs, olive oil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. No wonder it’s a hometown favorite.
The most revered version of this idea in town is not in town at all. Across the river in the boonies of Waggaman sits a nondescript house that everyone passes up at least once, but they keep trying to get to Mosca’s, pronounced MOsca’s, home of the renowned Oysters Mosca, and a lot of other severely delicious food. Baked in a metal dish brimming over with breadcrumbs, here is a divine balance of the house’s star ingredient, garlic, Parmesan cheese, plentiful Italian herbs, and of course oysters. Dakota’s Oysters Mosca in Covington pays homage to the legend, and while it too is delicious, it comes up just a tinge short. Still, it eliminates the drive to Waggaman when you’re craving this most-craveable dish. And the winner is at Ristorante Filippo in Metairie, whose Oysters Oreganato obliterates all others. For oyster fans, Oysters Oreganato is the signature dish of Heaven.
There are countless chargrilled copies of Tommy Cvitanovich’s brilliant contribution to New Orleans culinary history, but the original at Drago’s still reigns. Acme and New Orleans Food & Spirits can offer this treat all over town.
But what about the Nathan’s version that started the bivalve reverie? Fried oysters tossed in a honey butter sauce with crumbled feta over jicama slaw, it doesn’t sound or look as wowish as it is. But it is.
Another dish deserves a mention here, found at newcomer Pyre Provisions in Covington. A substantial pile of perfectly fried oysters sit in a positively slurpable sauce made with Chow Chow and pickled things. Topped with that emblem of hipness, sliced radishes, its looks do not alert you to the sensation that awaits.
There are no doubt others we haven’t lucked into, yet, because our local delicacy definitely gets a chef’s culinary juices flowing. All of these dishes prove something we often say that everyone already knows: a great dish starts with the best ingredients. Is there a better single starter ingredient than a Gulf oyster, which is considered by many to be perfect, all by itself?