Make That Thirteen
Dozen Best Unique Oyster Appetizers
It’s difficult to determine whether shrimp, crabmeat or oysters are the most popular subjects in New Orleans restaurant appetizer menus. It’s easy to discern my favorite, though: oysters, hands down. A restaurant with interesting works involving oysters has a good chance of getting a rating star from me just for that. That’s true whether the dishes involved are old classics or newfangled concoctions. I love them all. (Assuming they’re made well.
This list adds a qualification, though. To appear here, the dish has to be unique. That eliminates oysters Rockefeller, Bienville, Mosca, Drago’s char-broiled, en brochette, and (probably the best of all) raw on the half-shell. All of the following as original as they are good.
A few of these appear in more than one restaurant, but because a particular chef brought the dish with him from one location to another. As always, the boundaries are fuzzy.
One more breaking of a loose rule: this alleged list of a dozen actually includes thirteen dishes. Don’t you always get an extra oyster when you order a dozen? (I could probably do two dozen of these and still have nothing but great dishes on the list.) As I write this (in April), oysters remain near their peak of the season for size and meatiness. (Although not saltiness. Blame all the rain we’ve had this winter for that.)
1. Pascal’s Manale. Uptown: 1838 Napoleon Ave. 504-895-4877. The oyster pan roast is combined with crabmeat in a thickish, white-roux sauce with green onions, baked to bubbling with bread crumbs on top. Rather rich, but tremendously good.
2. Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. Arnaud’s has not one but three unique oyster dishes, served with a Rockefeller and a Bienville in a five-way assortment. The best of the originals is oysters Suzette, with peppers and bacon, among other things. Oysters Ohan are made with eggplant and andouille, and oysters Kathryn come out with garlic, artichokes, and tasso.
3. Cafe Giovanni. French Quarter: 117 Decatur. 504-529-2154. The sauce–brown, slightly sweet, slightly spicy, with a tang of ginger–is “painted” to a stained-glass effect. The oysters are fried and placed on top of it. Incredible taste.
4. Antoine’s. French Quarter: 713 St Louis. 504-581-4422. Fried oysters topped with a rich dark brown sauce that looks like chocolate, all on a piece of toast spread with pate de foie gras. Much better than it sounds, and the best dish at Antoine’s.
5. GW Fins. French Quarter: 808 Bienville. 504-581-3467. “Smoked, sizzling oysters” is the highly descriptive name. Although the final flavor is reminiscent of Drago’s char-broiled, they get there a completely different way.
6. Pelican Club. French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504. The oyster appetizer named for the restaurant is baked on the shells with bacon, roasted red pepper and herb butter. They arrive sizzling.
7. Red Fish Grill. French Quarter: 115 Bourbon. 504-598-1200. The name is misleading. They resemble Buffalo chicken wings, but with oysters instead of chicken. The oyster is fried, then topped with a hot-sauce-laced butter and blue cheese. The restaurant is about to serve its three-millionth barbecue oyster, and I can understand way.
8. Zea. ||Harahan: 1655 Hickory Ave. 504-738-0799. ||Kenner: 1325 West Esplanade Ave. 504-468-7733. ||Lee Circle Area: 1525 St Charles Ave. 504-520-8100. ||Metairie: 4450 Veterans Blvd (Clearview Mall). 504-780-9090. ||Covington: 110 Lake Dr. 985-327-0520. ||Harvey: 1121 Manhattan Blvd. 504-361-8293. ||Slidell: 173 Northshore Blvd. 985-273-0500. It appears on the springtime seafood menu only, taking advantage of the large oysters available then. Fried with a panko crust, topped with sesame seeds and both a spicy Asian sauce and a sweet one. It’s an appetizer, but I usually get a double order as an entree.
9. Tommy’s Cuisine. Warehouse District: 746 Tchoupitoulas. 504-581-1103. Oyster Tommy–often served as part of the 2-2-2 with Rocks and Bienvilles–has an herbal topping baked on the oysters in its shell with pancetta, Romano cheese, and roasted red peppers. It bubbles from the bacon fat.
10. Clancy’s. Uptown: 6100 Annunciation. 504-895-1111. It doesn’t sound right: fried oysters atop sauteed spinach, with a wedge of Brie melted over it all. But it tastes right. Chef Steve Manning brought this with him when he opened his own place, Annunciation.
11. Pardo’s. Covington: 69305 Hwy 21. 985-893-3603. A new North Shore bistro with a lot of original ideas roasts oysters on their shells in a wood-burning oven with a topping of chorizo, garlic, herbs, spinach, and pecorino Romano. Terrific.
12. Bourbon House. French Quarter: 144 Bourbon. 504-522-0111. A spicy original, made with tasso, tomatoes,jalapenos and sweet roasted peppers, bonded by butter and parmesan cheese. It’s the third oyster on the 2-2-2.
13. RocketFire Pizza Co.. Covington: 1950 N Hwy 190. 985-327-7600. It’s such an obvious idea that I wonder why nobody did it before. Here’s an oyster on a bed of spinach-artichoke dip–yes, the stuff you find in every chain restaurant–all in a shell, topped with bread crumbs. They bake them in the coal-fired, super-hot pizza oven. I get this more often than I get the pizza..