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Oysters on the Half Shell, Turtle Power

By Andrew Jenkins in Food on Dec 8, 2006 6:12PM


It’s the holidays, and nothing says Happy Holidays to us like some raw oysters and a gin martini. And while us landlocked Midwesterners won’t pretend to have any expertise on the subject of mollusks or the like, we have heard that Fulton’s chef Mark Mavrantonis is an oyster dynamo. Rumor has it that he was on a team that set an oyster-shucking record by opening up more than 16,000 of the little guys in something like 11 hours. Having nearly lost a few fingers trying to shuck in the past, Mavrantonis’ oyster reputation was enough to get us through Fulton’s door last night for a quick dozen and some juniper berry goodness.

We’ve eaten a fair amount of oysters in the past, but we were hoping to get some much-needed oyster schooling from either our server, or possibly Mavrantonis himself. Sadly, the 12 holiday parties that Fulton’s was hosting last night didn’t allow for the quiet tutoring we had envisioned. So we kind of went for a basic East Coast versus West Coast throw down (kind of like Bad Boy vs. Death Row Records). Representing the cold eastern climates was the Rappahannock oyster, typically farmed around the Chesapeake Bay. From the West we chose the storied Kumamoto, a variety brought to the United States from the shores of Japan after WWII.

fultons1.gifIn both cases, freshness was arguably the best we’ve ever had this far inland. We assume Mavrantonis has some connections from his previous life with McCormick & Schmick’s in San Francisco. The Rappahannocks were the larger of the two samples, and they came to us floating in their half shells with a healthy amount of natural juices still present. The oyster liquor was nice and salty, while the oysters themselves were plump and tender. We’ve read that Chesapeake Bay oysters can have varying flavors (from salty to sweet) depending on how close to the ocean they were grown. These succulent guys had a lovely amount of fresh saltwater flavor.

Whereas the Rappahannocks fulfilled our need for the pumped-up, slurping oyster consumption we were craving, the Kumamotos put a more delicate and subtle spin on our oyster event. These guys are far smaller, and unlike the flat shells of the Rappahannocks, Kumamotos are housed in a deep-cupped shell. The oyster meat was more on the sweet side with a creamy texture and came with less ocean brine than its counterpart. These silver-dollar-sized oysters also take far longer to grow to full-size — up to five years, compared to half that for other varieties.

Oysters are damn interesting creatures. They're slimy. They're supposedly aphrodisiacs. They’re delicious. And from what we can tell, Fulton’s on the River is a prime spot to eat them here in Chicago. The price is a little steep (Kumamotos are $14.95 for six, and Rappahannocks are $12.95), but we’re about a thousand miles from the nearest oyster farm so we’ll take what we can get. We’d like to hit up Fulton’s again on a more low-key evening for some more oyster talk, and since oysters tend to be at peak condition around the cold-weather months, we’ll probably be heading back sooner rather than later.

Fulton’s on the River is located at 315 N. LaSalle St. Phone: 312-822-0100 Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. on Saturdays; 4:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. on Sundays.