Oysters mean a lot to the Northwest. Beyond the fact that native peoples in the region have been consuming them for more than 4,000 years, in the mid-1800s the oyster industry became a booming business here. As far as our dedication to the tasty mollusks, little has changed. Washington still produces more oysters than any other state and has done so for a very long time. As such, generations of Northwesterners have grown up with oysters as an omnipresent part of mealtime.
In the last half-century or so, our awareness of the caliber of ingredients and our understanding of how to utilize them have continued to expand. That includes oysters. Where, once, the standard preparation was to bury them in a recipe, they are now being celebrated au naturel for their nuanced, briny flavor. In the same way that terroir speaks to the influence of the land on food, merroir is what has been imparted by the sea. It is specifically noted in oysters, and, because of this, your neighborhood oyster bar is no longer just a place to pound raw seafood and beer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Instead, the new wave of Northwest oyster bar employs a chef-driven approach showcasing the bounty of the area, with the versatility of the oyster front and center.
Olympia Oyster Bar, Portland, Oregon
Maylin Chavez knows a thing or two about fresh seafood. Growing up next to the Pacific Ocean in Baja California, she has combined her love and appreciation for seafood, aquaculture and expansive culinary influence at her Olympia Oyster Bar in Portland. Chef Chavez is enamored not just with how good oysters taste, but how good they are for the environment—pointing out that one oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water in 24 hours. Utilizing Mexican, Spanish and Asian flavor profiles and preparations, she augments and elevates the little oceanic helpers with creativity and seasonal ingredients in a way that has produced the new gold standard for destination dining on Portland’s Mississippi Avenue. oobpdx.com
Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar, Olympia, Washington
Since 1987, Chelsea Farms has been the model of sustainable shellfish farming in Washington, with a focus on Chelsea Gem, Bonita and the once nearly extinct native Olympia oysters, in addition to clams and geoduck. To that end, the South Sound oyster farm has been a community asset to Thurston County for decades. A culinary extension of their ethos and approach, the Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar in Olympia has arguably been the best restaurant in the Washington State Capital since opening in 2016. Executive Chef Henri Ñol, who spent time in some of Portland’s premier dining establishments, brings Mexican culinary influence along with a raised bar of professionalism and vision to the restaurant and its menu. chelseafarms.net/oyster-bar
The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle, Washington
Throughout the first decade of this century, the seafood served in Seattle was dominated by imports from Alaska. Cedar plank salmon was king and there wasn’t much regard for truly local delicacies like oysters, geoduck or spot prawns. The Walrus and the Carpenter was established with the idea of taking those stellar ingredients and making them accessible and approachable. The Smart Catch-certified oyster bar and restaurant, helmed culinarily by Executive Chef Bobby Palmquist, is dedicated to the local and sustainable cause. You won’t find blue fin tuna, king salmon or Southeast Asian prawns on the menu, but you will find bycatch pacific octopus, Salish Sea halibut, smelt, side stripe and spot prawns, and of course, oysters. thewalrusbar.com