Being that I’m a Southern girl, I can never say ‘no’ to seafood—especially when it comes to oysters. They bring to mind summer nights in Wrightsville Beach, shucking oysters with my family on the pier by the sound. Or Spring Break in Panama City Beach, binging on fresh seafood with my best friends in between bar-hopping.
So, when Thrillist invited us to attend Empire Oyster, a festival-esque event sponsored by Modelo, to celebrate New York Oyster Week and highlight local seafood chefs and oyster farms, it was a no-brainer that I would volunteer to attend on behalf of the Bitches.
We arrived at The Waterfront around 2 in the afternoon, about an hour after the event had started. We were handed two tokens: one to vote for our favorite chef, and another to vote for our favorite kind of oyster. There were ten restaurants and chefs in attendance, and each was serving one oyster-centric dish.
There were also ten oyster farmers at the event, showcasing freshly caught oysters that were being shucked before our very eyes. There were farmed oysters, wild oysters, small oysters, massively plump oysters—even wild oysters that had been foraged by scuba divers, which I didn’t even know was a thing.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I considered myself a bit of an oyster expert prior to this event due to my Southern roots, but I could not have been more mistaken. I used to think all oysters tasted the same. Always salty, usually briney. But after tasting all of the different varieties and chatting with some of the different oyster farmers, it was obvious that how an oyster tastes depends on what region it was from and how it was raised.
I loved that Thrillist provided each guest with tokens to encourage us to engage with the chefs, interact with the farmers, and vote for our favorite dishes and oysters. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to taste the dishes from Blue Water Grill, The Liberty NYC, or Soju Haus.
Blue Water Grill and The Liberty NYC had already run out of ingredients upon our arrival, and Soju Haus ran out while we were waiting in line to try it. This was a bit disappointing, as the event was supposed to last for three hours, and we were only an hour into it.
However, of the dishes we were able to try, our favorites were from The Leadbelly Oyster & Liquor Bar, Lupulo Restaurant, and the Greenwich Project.
Chef Alonso Silva from The Leadbelly Oyster & Liquor Bar served an exquisite Southern American Oyster Ceviche, with black garlic, sweet potato puree, and squid ink. This was the first dish we tried, and it was intensely flavorful with a hint of citrus, which was refreshing. This dish definitely set the tone for the rest of the event.
Chef de Cuisine Brad Willits from Lupulo Restaurant served Island Creek Oyster Cru, with yuzu, dried scallop, and shitake. The presentation of this dish was impeccable, and it was such a delight to see the chef and his crew prepping each ingredient that went into this dish. It was packed with flavor, and each ingredient paired together perfectly, to the delight of my taste buds.
Chef Carmine Di Giovanni from Greenwich Project served Beer-Battered Fried Oysters, with a caraway induced slaw. We loved this dish so much because the batter was very light and didn’t overpower the flavor of the oyster itself. Fried oysters can often be TOO fried, with the oyster totally getting lost in a thick, overwhelming batter.
In the end, The Fillmore Room and the farmers from Harvest Moon were crowned “King of the Oysters” for their respective dishes and seafood. The Fillmore Room served Oyster Newburg, with a lobster broth, shallots, fine sherry, and tomatoes and cream, while Harvest Moon won for their specific oyster.
All-in-all, Empire Oyster was a really fun and interesting event! I would definitely recommend keeping an eye out for tickets next year, especially if you’re an oyster-lover like me. I just wish that each restaurant had been prepared for all of the guests, and had enough ingredients on-hand to last the entire event.