Bubbles & Bivalves at the Oyster Bash

Nothing sets a celebratory mood more than Champagne.  And it’s even better when it’s paired with raw oysters!

Enticed by this delicious combination, I eagerly looked forward to the Oyster Bash at the Standard Hotel, one of the 2009 New York City Wine & Food Festival‘s Saturday events.  The afternoon of indulgence featured free-flowing Champagne and a nearly endless supply of oysters.

Four chefs served their favorite oyster preparations, using oysters farmed by cultivators from the northeast and Canada who were on hand to chat about their craft.  You could try the chef’s preparation or grab an oyster directly from the person shucking them.

After enjoying a glass of Champagne, I decided to start with a Beau Soleil oyster prepared by Sam Talbot.  Known for both his good food and good looks on season 2 of Top Chef, Sam seemed to have mostly women coming back for a second and third oyster (I’m sure serving an aphrodisiac didn’t help).

Sam served the oysters on the half shell in a spicy pomegranate juice topped with pomegranate seeds and thyme.  The crunch from the seeds and the spice from the pepper was a great contrast to the slippery smooth texture of the oyster.

Next I tried Rhode Island oysters prepared by Franklin Becker, the Executive Chef at Abe & Arthur’s Restaurant.  The plump oysters were topped with what appeared to be a tomato and fruit salsa, which made for a light and refreshing bite.

Offering a more savory preparation was Alexandra Guarnaschelli, the Executive Chef of Butter Restaurant.  Bits of chorizo added a nice meaty flavor to the Long Island oysters, which were served alongside a shot of clam chowder.

It was hard to top the duo of oysters offered by Christian Zammas from the Stewart House in upstate New York.  The first oyster presentation was a true tribute to the Big Apple.  The oyster was sprinkled with white balsamic vinegar and apple vodka made in upstate New York, and topped with a thin slice of apple, also from upstate.  It was salty, tart and sweet all at the same time, with a crisp finish.

This would have been my favorite oyster of the bash had I not tried Christian’s second preparation, which looked more fit for a college dorm room than a Champagne fête.

The preparation attracted lots of attention from bash-goers including Duff Goldman from Food Network’s Ace of Cakes, who attended with several members of the Charm City Cakes crew.

Using what would best be described as a gastronomic gravity bong, Christian lit a mix of black pepper and apple and pomegranate tea.  He filled a small glass bulb with the smoke, which he placed over a raw oyster.

To eat the creation you lifted the bulb and inhaled the smoke before slurping down the oyster.

It was a unique sensory experience, with the lingering aroma from the smoke adding a nice fruity and spicy taste to the cool, slippery oyster.

After another glass of Champagne and several more oysters, it was time to leave the party.  And because I believe you can never have too much of a good thing, I had even more oysters a couple of hours later at dinner.