Oysterland: A Journey to the Heart of Bivalve Country

Oysters have once again become the bivalve of the hour, the defining protein of the age, expressing everything we want life and food to be right now. Luxurious but unpretentious, decadent but healthful, oysters are the must-order—from the basis of le grand plateau de fruits de mer at a New York institution like Balthazar to seafood-centric newbies like The Ordinary in Charleston, South Carolina. Oysters are even quasi-wild and sustainable, not to mention downright good for the oceans. There’s something sweetly deceptive about their simplicity, too. At least it felt that way to me, sitting at grand old Elliott’s Oyster House on Seattle’s waterfront.Oysterland

The two dozen trays behind the shucker were flagged with names like Hama Hama, Barron Point, Little Skookum—farms within a few hours’ drive (or sail) of my barstool. With the precision of a surgeon, the oysterman set to work and laid my order on ice, next to a cold glass of Washington Sauvignon Blanc. Those shimmering half shells seemed to say that they’d been plucked straight from the sea, as if there were nothing to know beyond their briny lusciousness. And yet, as with peas and pork and broccoli and beef, there is always a story to tell when you follow your food back to the source.

The wonderful thing about Seattle, that greatest of oyster cities, is that the story began just beyond Elliott’s big picture windows, among the sheltered inlets and forested islands that make Washington State’s $185-million-a-year shellfish industry easily the biggest and best in the United States, if not the world.

I came here to spend three days driving a loop we’ll call the Puget Sound Oyster Trail. Think of it as a network of coastal roads and ferry routes linking oyster shacks, shellfish farms, and low-key spots offering enough raw oysters on the half shell, crispy fried oysters, and butter-dripping baked bivalves to complete a gastronomic road trip as legit as any Napa Valley wine tour or Texas Hill Country BBQ quest.

Read more here