Shuck Yeah! Finding Your Oyster Pearl

September 06, 2022
Raw, fried, charbroiled, Rockefeller, swimming in soup, nestled in a po-boy or atop a bed of lettuce … New Orleans’ fall-time favorite seafood is a delicious delicacy no matter which way you shuck it. The official season for Louisiana Gulf oysters typically begins just after Labor Day and runs through the end of April (AKA the “R” months) when oyster aficionados believe that they are at their best. However, since the majority of oysters are farm-raised and harvested year-round, these meaty mollusks are spectacular any time of the year. Whether you’re a bivalve purist or an oyster adventurer, there are so many succulent choices that you shouldn’t have to dive very deep to find your pearl!

Annunciation –
Housed in a renovated turn-of-the-century warehouse located in New Orleans’ trendy Warehouse District, Annunciation is the perfect fusion of traditional and modern from the warm, inviting décor to its enticing culinary creations. Bursting with charm and classic Southern hospitality, the neighborhood eatery, which is celebrating 10 successful years in business, continues to wow locals and visitors alike. Since 2017, Chef Milton Prudence, a Galatoire’s alum with more than 40 years of culinary experience, has been at the kitchen’s helm, where he expertly crafts a mélange of traditional and contemporary Southern and Creole dishes that are sure to impress. Begin your culinary journey with one of two flavorsome oyster appetizers: Classic Rockefeller featuring fresh herbs, a touch of Herbsaint and breadcrumbs served on the half shell, or opt for the more modern take with perfectly crisped fried oysters nestled atop a of bed of sautéed spinach accented by a velvety triple cream brie. If you’re lucky, oyster and artichoke soup, a favorite recipe of one of Annunciation’s original owners, will be offered as the soup du jour and should not be missed. Other highlights include Veal Annunciation, breaded and paneéd tender veal served on top of rich fettuccine Alfredo, and fried soft shell crab served over a bed of linguini with crawfish tails and spicy Monica cream sauce. Kick back in the quaint bar with a tasty signature cocktail or choose from the impressive collection of fine bourbon, scotch and whiskey. Annunciation also hosts private parties and functions in its elegant, second-floor event space.

Drago’s –
What began in 1969 as a casual, family-operated eatery in Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans) has blossomed into a cluster of flourishing locations and most notable spawned one of the most beloved of all bivalve dishes—Charbroiled oysters. While Drago’s was the brainchild of Croatia-born Drago Cvitanovich and his wife Klara, it was their son and second-generation restaurateur Tommy who put Drago’s on the worldwide map with his creation of the illustrious oyster concoction. The legendary charbroiled dish was hatched in 1993 when Tommy began experimenting with a blend of butter, garlic and herbs slathered on fresh oysters on the half shell, then topped with Parmesan and Romano cheeses with a dash of parsley and tossed onto the hot grill. Voilà … Mollusk magic! Today, this cherished New Orleans favorite is imitated across the state and beyond, but if you want to experience the original version, Drago’s it is. So many locals and visitors come to enjoy this delicacy that the restaurant can churn out as many as 900 dozen in a single day! And while charbroiled oysters are the take center stage, there are plenty of other seafood standouts from shrimp and grits and gumbo to stuffed lobster. Today, Drago’s boasts six thriving locations (Metairie, Downtown New Orleans, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge and even Jackson, MS) so getting a taste of the charbroiled original is easier than ever.

Effervescence –
Bigger is not always better, which is evident in the fairly small, yet focused menu at this quaint bubbles and bites hot spot. The same holds true for the petite, yet sublime Murder Point oysters they proudly serve. Co-executive chefs Brenna Sanders and Evan Ingram thrive on working with exceptional locally sourced, quality ingredients and the oysters are no exception. While working in San Francisco, the duo heard about a new oyster coming from the Gulf that was unlike your typical big bed variety. This specialty oyster was smaller with the focus on a concentrated, clean flavor. Brenna thought it was “so cool that the Gulf had a new product that was both familiar and refined” and was eager to try them. After spending an afternoon at Murder Point slurping down freshly harvested oysters, the chefs knew that these oysters were truly special. Raised off-bottom in suspended cages, removed from the water and periodically tumbled, a process which helps to maintain their dainty size, the oysters grow a deeper cup and remain tightly shut, thus preserving their luscious liquor and freshness resulting in a creamy, rich oyster flavor. These bivalve beauties are served with a simple mignonette made from Champagne vinegar, lemon juice, a splash of sparkling wine and another flavor profile that compliments the oysters by allowing their flavor to shine through. And with a name like Effervescence, you can expect to discover a spectacular selection of sparkling wines, including a sparkling Muscadet, the perfect oyster mate. Don’t miss Friday and Saturday happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. with bubbly specials and $4 snack bites.

Miss River –
Last August, the highly anticipated Four Seasons Hotel threw open its doors to much excitement. Since then, the Mississippi River waterfront hotel has made waves with its elegant décor featuring local artwork, dramatic Chandelier lobby bar, resort-style rooftop pool, luxurious spa and observation deck with sprawling city views. But the two hotel restaurants are what continue to draw locals in time and time again. The hotel cleverly tapped Israeli-born restauranteur Alon Shaya—James Beard Award winner, celebrity chef and cookbook author who has made NOLA his home for over 20 years—to craft its signature lobby-level eatery Miss River. The restaurant pays homage to the Crescent City through its ornamental detailing, dramatic flair, sophisticated Southern charm, stellar service and ingredient-driven menu. Naturally, seafood is front and center here and for those seeking oysters, Miss River is sure to impress! Start with Oysters en Brochette, a deconstructed version of fried oysters, Benton’s bacon, jalapenos and toast, that when combined meld into a bite of crispy bliss, or indulge in raw oysters on the half shell topped with caviar. You can’t go wrong with the classic Redfish Courtbouillon, a spicy fish stew brimming with oysters, crab, shrimp and the Holy Trinity. But Miss River’s can’t-miss dish is the Oyster Stew: tender plump oysters swimming in decadent tarragon-laced cream balanced by a hint of lemon zest … Pure heaven!

Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish House –
If you’re looking for a casual restaurant with a friendly, neighborhood vibe serving up fresh seafood and classic local favs, then Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish House is your kind of place. The laidback, approachable joint specializes in fresh Gulf oysters served up several ways starting with juicy, freshly-shucked, ice-cold raw oysters with zesty horseradish cocktail sauce to those accented by a mosaic of toothsome toppings. Fans of traditional butter-soaked charbroiled oysters will not be disappointed by their tasty rendition and for an added kick, try the Southwest version topped with a jalapeno. If Rockefeller is more your style, then dig into Mr. Ed’s unique take featuring a creamy spinach blend with crawfish tails and bacon that generously coats each bivalve. Oysters Bienville, a savory breadcrumb and cheese-based mixture with mushrooms, green onions and shrimp, will delight dressing devotees. And if you really want to get the party started, slam back a raw oyster shooter made with vodka or gin and Creole Bloody Mary mix. Scattered about the New Orleans area, the four locations also dish up tasty local fare such as crispy fried catfish, Creole gumbo, crab cakes with remoulade sauce, alligator bites, grilled Louisiana redfish and seafood po-boys. NOLA newbies be sure to check out the Taste of New Orleans combo plate featuring jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, and red beans and rice with smoked sausage.

Red Fish Grill –
The Brennan name is synonymous with the New Orleans food scene and is frequently applauded for its culinary vision, exceptional food and service, attention to detail and commitment to the community. As one of six notable dining establishments within the Ralph Brennan Group, Red Fish Grill is definitely on par. More than 20 years ago, the casual, seafood-centric eatery hooked the attention of locals and visitors with its vibrant, whimsical décor, easygoing atmosphere and unpretentious, yet bold flavors. If you’re casting a net for bivalves like no other, then Red Fish Grill’s signature BBQ Oysters are the perfect catch. Fried to golden perfection and liberally coated in an alluring blend of clarified butter, Crystal hot sauce and honey, these gorgeous Gulf oysters are then drizzled with tangy, house-made blue cheese dressing, creating the ultimate bite that’s sure to titillate your taste buds. Did you know? Since 1997, nearly 4.5 million meaty mollusks have been served, many in the form of BBQ Oysters! Offered Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Chef Chris Vazquez’s weekend seafood brunch will have you reeling with favorites such as crab cakes and eggs with chipotle hollandaise, Louisiana shrimp and goat cheese grits and gator breakfast tacos. And if that’s not enough to lure you in, sip bottomless brunch cocktails like the Sunrise Mimosa, Smokey Paloma or Blood Orange Bellini for just $25 (with entrée purchase) until 2 p.m. And that’s no fish tale!

Restaurant R’evolution –
If you are looking to elevate your oyster adventure, look no further than Restaurant R’evolution, the fine dining restaurant located in the historic Royal Sonesta Hotel in the heart of the French Quarter. Indulge your senses in one of seven sophisticated dining spaces, serviced by not one, but two custom-designed kitchens, complete with specially created “R’evolution red” colored Viking equipment—it’s worthy of a tour! Not to be outshone is Chef de Cuisine Samuel Peery’s contemporary, reimagined take on Cajun and Creole cuisine. Oysters on the half shell R’evolution Style showcases plump, meaty mollusks perfectly highlighted by a succulent lemon-horseradish granita and Tabasco Verjus (a glorious take on classic mignonette) that can be made even more luxurious with the addition of Chouique Caviar. Not to be outdone, the Fire-Roasted Gulf Oysters with Bienville Butter (a flavorful mix of sautéed onion, bell pepper, garlic and celery melded into butter) are a real pearl. Continue your lavish dining excursion with the R’evolution Caviar Staircase, an assortment of fine caviar served with traditional garnishes; or the divine Cast Iron Foie Gras served with shaved ham, bing cherry, dark rum cane syrup and banana pistachio bread. There’s no shortage of exceptional entrées, from the gorgeous Lobster and Black Garlic Linguini to the outrageous Dry Aged Tomahawk Chop for two. And with a 10,000-bottle wine cellar, you’re sure to find the ideal selection to compliment your grand gastronomic experience.

Saint John –
Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Chef Eric Cook has had a life-long affinity for seafood, evident from the menus of both of his acclaimed restaurants, Saint John and Gris Gris. Located on bustling Decatur Street in the French Quarter, Saint John opened merely one year ago, but has already amassed legions of foodie fans that flock to the affable eatery to indulge in Cook’s remarkable rendition of approachable “haute Creole cuisine.” Popular selections such as smothered turkey necks in brown gravy with home-style potato salad, braised Southern greens, and Creole beef daube simmered in red wine, trinity and garlic are inspired by homey Sunday family dinners and community shared dishes. Cook’s seasoned touch is clearly illustrated in his oyster dishes whereby the tender, meaty bivalves shine. The Hoppin’ John Oyster Salad spotlights perfectly crisped Gulf oysters atop Bibb lettuce accented by bacon, smoky black-eyed peas and a zesty green remoulade. Oyster lovers will rejoice in the restaurant’s namesake appetizer, Oysters Saint John, a mouth-watering trio showcasing delicately poached oysters in double cream, crispy fried to golden perfection with velvety oyster dressing served in a flaky pastry shell. Saint John recently launched a new happy hour taking place Wednesday through Sunday from 3 to 6 p.m. with $7 bites and cocktails, $6 boilermakers, $5 beer and wine on tap, plus their signature Who Dat Bourbon Old Fashioned for only $5.