My darling and I took a trip up to Seattle recently go celebrate my birthday. On a previous trip (we were celebrating her birthday at that time) we discovered a quaint little hole in the wall oyster bar. We enjoyed their fresh selection of oysters, clams and mussels on that trip and so when we came North again it seemed only fitting for a return visit. Little did I know that this experience would be so… I’m getting ahead of myself.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon after a leisurely drive up from Portland. We saw the sign first, welcoming us to what would be a mollusk seduction of epic proportions. Taylor’s Shellfish & Oyster Bar is nestled in the heart of the Pioneer Square District – an area that’s called the birthplace of Seattle.
Walking through the doorway, we were met with a bustling scene – dimly lit, yet inviting. A holding tank close to the bar was full of live crabs and the shucking station was part of the bar, so the customers could be part of the whole experience.
We were greeted by one of the managers, who invited us in and offered us a cozy table for two. Within moments our waitress came over to take our drink orders. I had my usual Bombay Sapphire martini with a twist, but my darling had a more challenging time. One thing that the establishment doesn’t have is red wine. They have a decent selection of whites and a few varieties of rosé – thus my darling settled on a Vega Cava, a sparkling white wine from Spain. She said it was nice and light, with a scent of pear on the nose; citrus and crème brûlée, with small zesty bubbles on the palate and a nice rounded finish.
When our waitress came back with our drinks, we were about to tell her that we had decided to start with a shuckers dozen when she dropped the first of many pleasant bombshells on us. She informed us that they had just got some fresh Dungeness crab in and were doing a special crab dinner. The dinner included a whole crab, a shuckers dozen of oysters, a salad and a split bottle of Tremblay Chablis from France. She also told us about some special oysters – Olympians. Who are we to argue with the experts; we went with the dinner and added four of the Olympians to boot.
I have discovered there are two types of restaurants. Those establishments that people go to in order to have great food, and those that people go to in order to have a great experience. Taylor’s, however, falls into both categories.
We ordered the house salad, which consisted of sliced cherry tomatoes, sliced almonds and shaved manchego cheese over a bed of arugula, lightly tossed in honey-shallot vinaigrette. It was beautifully presented and the flavors blended together nicely. The spiciness of the arugula was tempered with the manchego and honey vinaigrette.
Once the salad was finished the plates were removed, new plates were laid before us and the oysters arrived. This is where the experience I mentioned earlier really began. When you come to Taylor’s, you don’t come just to eat oysters; you come to experience them, to be educated and to share in the passion that these amazing mollusks stir in everyone that works there.
Now I’ve had oysters before many times. I’ve had them on a half shell, shooters, fried, baked, smoked and yet never – in all my years – experienced oysters as they are at Taylor’s. The oysters aren’t just brought to you… Oh no, they are placed on the table and then the wait staff tells you about each one – where they came from, how this particular location effects the flavor – from how the water temperature effects the level of brininess a particular oyster will have, to how the motion of the waves effects the shape of the shell (and thus the formation and flavor of the meat of the oyster). The customer is told of the flavors each type of oyster will have from the first taste to the finish after the last swallow.
Our selection consisted of a selection of Virginica, Fanny Bay, Peale Passage, Kumamoto and Shigoku oysters. We added four Olympian oysters to the order, giving us a total of sixteen to share. Our waitress explained the intricacies of each oyster much the same way a sommelier would explain a fine wine. I could tell you, dear reader, that each oyster was an explosion of flavor; a melody of texture and taste but that would get monotonous after a while. Yes they were all amazing but it was the enthusiasm that our waitress had as she shared the history, the nuances, the creation of each oyster that captured my darling and myself. These people truly love what they do and it’s infectious. Thus I will simply give a quick run down of each as I truly recommend that you go down to Taylor’s and experience this for yourself.
The Virginica oyster is originally from the east coast, although Taylor’s Virginicas are beach grown in the Totten Inlet around Olympia, Washington. They have a rich meaty, texture and a creamy flavor that combines a clean, briny, smooth sweetness with a pronounced mineral finish. Our waitress told us that these are her favorites and that they finished first in a blind taste test against east coast grown Virginicas.
Fanny Bay oysters are grown tray to beach in Baynes Sound up on Vancouver Island, BC. Each of these amazing gems carries a mild brininess, a smooth sweet and salty flavor with a pronounced cucumber fruity finish.
The Peale Passage Oyster hales from Peale Passage in Harstine Island, Washington on the Pacific side and is also beach grown. These delicacies have a mild, briny taste, with a finish that is clean and almost fruity.
The Kumamoto oysters are small in size but not in flavor. These deep-cupped gems develop in a fluted shell and a sweet full-flavor, creamy, firm textured oyster with a finish that’s likened to sweet butter, with a nutty, mildly fruity ending. They are beach grown in the Totten Inlet around Olympia Washington.
The Shigoku oyster is tide-tumbled in the Pacific Ocean at Samish Bay, Washington. Because of the tumbling motion of the tide, the shells grow deep and produce a meaty oyster that is firm, with a light, clean taste of cucumber and salt, and a finish of water chestnut and artichoke. When we heard about the artichoke flavor, (which their website confirms), I was skeptical but to my surprise they were right, I could definitely taste it.
The Olympian oysters were the pièce de résistance. They are the only species that is native to the west coast. These guys may be small but… Wow! With their smoky, creamy texture, strong flavors of sweet celery and bright copper, and finishing with a long-lasting metallic accent, I could have easily made a meal of nothing but these little wonders.
Next, our culinary adventure continued with a full Dungeness crab, beautifully presented on a platter with lemon, cocktail sauce and a very special sauce served in the crab’s carapace. Our server told us that the crabs were not something they served every day, and that they had literally arrived from the boat that afternoon. You really can’t get any fresher than that without catching them yourself.
The crabmeat was sweet and tasty and went exceptionally well with the bottle of Tremblay Chablis we order (see part one). We decided to forgo the cocktail sauce and sample the thick, savory carapace sauce, made with the fat from the crab that collects in its carapace when it is steamed. Chilled, it had a creamy consistency similar to aioli. It was a wonderful compliment to the fresh crab.
But the night didn’t end there, dear reader. After we finished the crab I got into a discussion with our server about scotch. I like to finish the evening with a nice single malt if I can, and I had noticed a nice selection behind the bar when we came in. Her face lit up and she told us she had the perfect finish to our evening – something not on the menu yet, but incredible: A single malt scotch and oyster flight. It was a singular experience that really needs its own post.