Tag Archives: oysters

raw oysters in Paris

Oysters in Paris

In a half shell, here’s everything you need to know about buying, ordering, and eating oysters in Paris.

Oyster Season:

Oysters are in season (i.e. available and excellent) during any month that has an R in it (September-April), but you’re not likely to see the best on menus until October. Oysters naturally spawn in April and will spend the summer fattening up their plump little selves, plus you’re less likely to have bacterial issues with oysters in the chilly winter months. They feature  prominently in celebrations for Christmas and New Year’s – roughly half of all oysters eaten in France will be slurped up between these two holidays.

Key Vocab:

  • huître-  an oyster. pronounced wee-tra (without the h).
  • coquille d’huître-  oyster shell
  • écailleur-  a pro oyster shucker
  • ostréicole-  oyster farming
  • ostréiculteur-  oyster farmer
  • demi-douzaine-  a half dozen
  • douzaine-  a dozen
  • plats- European oysters with flat shells. They are rare (only 2% of oysters) due to overfishing and blights so be prepared to shell out the big bucks for these guys.
  • creuses- Pacific oysters with cupped shells (the most common). Sometimes still referred to as Japonaise.
  • mignonette- a traditional sauce to accompany oysters made of chopped shallots and red wine vinegar
  • claires- essentially these are oyster vineyards. They’re salt water basins that oysters spend time in that lend a particular terroir to each bivalve. They are used to cleanse and purify the oyster, and protect the delicate mollusks from extreme temperature changes. Time spent in the claires will change their flavor and texture and can even extend the shelf-life.

Size Matters 

Oysters are ranked according to size. When purchasing, you’ll see a number on the sign ranging from 00-5 for cupped oysters and 00-6 for flat ones. The smaller the number, the larger the oyster, so 00’s are the heavyweights while 6’s will be tiny.

  • fines- small-medium sized oysters (it’s been calibrated).
  • spéciales- slightly larger and fleshier oysters than the fines (also, calibrated).
  • fines de Claires- fines oysters that have spent two months in the Marennes-Oléron claires filtering the the estuary water in and out of their fatty bodies.  They are a higher density oyster that grow 20 per square meter.
  • Spéciales de Claires- oysters that ripen for two months in the Marennes-Oléron claires but with more space so that they plump up more than fines de Claires.
  • Pousse en Claires- considered a low density oyster (only 5 can be grown per sq meter), these oyster heavyweights that are grown in the above mentioned claires for four months. They’ll be very sweet and fleshy.
  • Papillons- very small oysters (usually 30 grams).
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Pousses en Claires Oysters for sale at L’Ecume Saint-Honoré (photo Meg Zimbeck)

Oyster Growing Regions

As with wine, the flavor and texture of an oyster are deeply dependent on where the oyster has been harvested. Each body of water has different trace minerals, tidal patterns, temperatures, and salinity that will change the flavor of oysters as it filters through their fattening bodies. The flavors will change from season to season and year to year in any given location depending on rainfall, algae and other natural factors.

  • Aquitaine: Arcachon is a celebrated Southwestern bay near Bordeaux where oysters start off in the wild. Small babies then suction themselves to terracotta tiles that farmers deliberately place in the water. They are then placed in sacks (beds) and left to slowly grow and fatten up in the deep sea. They can occasionally acquire a greenish tint due to the algae.
  • Normandy: The Northwest has deep sea oysters from Cotenin Peninsula, Isigny oysters, and nutty Saint-Vaast. Utah Beach is another well-known spot for sweet oysters.
  • Brittany: The small amount of flat oysters produced tend to be farmed along Brittany’s coast. Cancale (firm and salty), Paimpol (juicy and plump from deep-sea farms), Bélon (oyster celebrities from the famed estuary in Southern Brittany that mature in brackish water), Quiberon (well-balanced flavor), Saint-Brieuc, Morlaix and the Bay of Brest are the regions most famous places for great mollusks.
  • The Central West Coat: Ile de Ré, Noirmoutier, Baie de Bourgneuf, Pornic, and Beauvoir-sur-Mer are all areas for fine oysters.
  • Languedoc:  Bouzigue is noted for the extremely pure lagoon water (grade A) so that its oysters can be consumed immediately after being caught.
  • Marennes-Oléron: You’ll find oysters from the Ile d’Oléron which are farmed, and Charente oysters that are fattened up in claires. It’s the claire-ripened oysters that are particularly noted from this region. Sometimes the bluey-green algae from the brackish waters will tint the oysters a special hue.

How to Eat Them:

Oysters are almost never rinsed (to preserve the flavor), often shucked in front of you, and always served over ice. In France, they will typically still have the adductor muscle attached (i.e. they will stick to the shell) as that is thought to keep them fresher longer. You’ll want to take a tiny fork and gently pry it loose, if necessary. Squeeze a little lemon on top, pour some mignonette sauce in the shell, or forgo all condiments and slurp it back in one gulp.

Photo by Meg Zimbeck
Oysters at Le Mary Celeste (photo Meg Zimbeck)

Our Favorite Places to Eat them: 

We first asked our panel of Contributing Editors three years ago to name Five Great Oyster Places for indulging in some half-shell love. Their overall favorite: Huîtrerie Régis.

  1. Huîtrerie Régis- Régis’ superb oysters come from the famous claires of the the Marenne-Oléron.  They’re  available for take out or to eat on the spot in the cheerful little dining room.
  2. L’Ecailler du Bistrot- The “bistrot” in question is carnivore-heaven Paul Bert, just next door.  But at L’Ecailler the focus is on seafood, including a gorgeous array of Belon, Utah Beach, and Spéciales.
  3. Garnier- Get your Gillardeaux to go like Lobrano does or take a seat in this classic brasserie for some of the city’s best bivalves.
  4. L’Ecume Saint-Honoré- This charming poissonnerie has several tables for dégustation on the spot.
  5. L’Huîtrier- Claires and Belons are on the menu at this sleek address in the 17th.

To that list, we now add some new favorites:

  • Le Baron Rouge- The bar brings in an oysterman from Brittany who shucks to order on the street corner. Shop at the Aligre market then scrunch among the trashcans and use a car as your tabletop for a uniquely Parisian oyster experience.
  • Le Mary Celeste- Good cocktails, nice wine, and wild oysters served with a wonderful slightly spicy Asian-influenced sauce. In season, the bar does oyster happy hour with oysters for 1€ each.
  • Bones- Utah oysters raw on the half-shell or occasionally BBQ’d.
  • La Cabane à Huitres- Francis Dubourg grows his oysters in the Arcachon basin and brings them direct to Paris for tasting in this adorable room outfitted to feel like a seaside shack (cabane).
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L’Ecume Saint-Honoré

Practical information

Address: 6 rue du Marché St.-Honoré, 75001
Nearest transport: Tuileries (1) or Pyramides (7, 14)
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday from 11am-7pm and until 10pm on Friday and Saturday
Reservations: Reservations not necessary
Telephone: 01 42 61 93 87
Average price for lunch: 10-19€
Average price for dinner: 20-34€
Style of cuisine: Classic French, seafood

Reviews of interest

Le Fooding (2013) “Seagulls on the walls, seagulls on the ceiling, the cries of seagulls ringing in your ears…That’s the joke. Because in this fish shop-tasting room, the rest of the story could not be more serious. Some examples: a plate a shellfish, solidly moored, with clams, a violet (also known as a sea fig, with orangey flesh) and beautiful mussels (€23), oysters from the entire park (fines de claires and Emeraudes from La Belle d’Oléron, spéciales blanches from Gillaredeau, belons 00…from €28 to €68 the dozen). The prices are awfully steep, but the products are of the finest quality, straight from the high auction.”

Le Figaro (2011) “Lorsque l’Écume Saint-Honoré, l’un des meilleurs poissonniers de la capitale, se dote d’un espace dégustation, cela donne ce bar à coquillages pour avaler six huîtres sur le pouce, de rares pouces-pieds ou un saumon fumé, le tout accompagné de cris de mouette en fond sonore. Rafraîchissant.”

Barbra Austin (2009) “I went to L’Écume St. Honoré for a half dozen spéciales, but it’s a single scallop that I keep thinking about…”

Le Mary Celeste in Paris - Chinese crepes with beef knuckle, peanuts, sesame, celery

First Look: Le Mary Celeste

Le Mary Celeste in Paris - oysters

Le Mary Celeste is a new restaurant from the people behind Candelaria and Glass. Accordingly, there’s a solid cocktail program and two Brooklyn beers on tap. Another creative and beautiful (now nautical) interior from David Rager, Cheri Messerli and Gilles Tombeur. These will get a lot of attention, as will the rotating cast of mostly wild oysters sold by the piece for 2-5€. But the real story here is Haan Palcu-Chang.

Haan is a Canadian of Romanian and Chinese descent whose most recent professional gigs were in Michelin-starred restaurants in Copenhagen. However skilled he may now be in the art of making foams and gels, he’s equally passionate about time spent learning how to cook from “real Asians” in New Zealand and about the ethnic food scene in his native Toronto. He’s a food nerd, and this is the first time that he’s been given control over a kitchen.

When you mix together the technique, the respect for ingredient and the ethos of everything-from-scratch, the result is a small plates menu that’s so much better than it needs to be. In the same spirit as Paris’ Au Passage or Copenhagen’s Fiskebar – this is a place where serious Food is being transmitted through a small plates medium to unshaven people in skinny jeans.

Examples

Le Mary Celeste in Paris - pickled topinambour

Le Mary Celeste in Paris - beef jerky

Le Mary Celeste in Paris - kimchi

Bar snacks of (all housemade) pickled topimambour, beef jerky, kimchi

Le Mary Celeste in Paris - Chinese crepes with beef knuckle, peanuts, sesame, celery

Crêpes Chinoises: beef shin, celery, sesame, peanuts

 There’s also a respect for vegetables here that one doesn’t often find in Paris. While we were tempted by the poitrine de veau (veal breast) with coconut milk or the pintade (guineau hen) with tare sauce, we surrendered instead to a vegetarian dish with two kinds of cabbage, black beans and a roasted carrot that was so deeply savory it could have been meat. The two dishes I’ll return for are also meat-free: steamed oysters with chili, black vinegar, and crispy shallots, plus endives with tamarind and mint. Tamarind also flavors a chocolate creme dessert with Maldon salt. When’s the last time anyone saw tamarind in Paris?

Le Mary Celeste cocktails - Judy Blue Eyes and Rain Dog

I opted instead for a dessert cocktail (or two). My favorite was the Rain Dog, made with small batch bourbon, bitters, mint, lemon and sirop de capillaire. That last ingredient is a house-made infusion of simple syrup, orange flower water, and dried maidenhair fern. It’s what makes the drink more than a mint julep, and it’s what makes the drink 12 euros.

Practical Advice

It’s possible to reserve (only by email at reservations@lemaryceleste.com), and I would recommend doing so. The dining room was absolutely packed at 8pm on a Thursday with no place to sit besides our two reserved seats.

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It’s also possible to order sequentially, another something I would recommend. Nearly all of the five dishes we ordered arrived at one time, along with a giant oyster platter, and these didn’t fit on the tiny little table. My friend and I took turns holding plates in the air above the platter to let the other person take a few bites. The result: a stream of fatty jus dribbling from the crêpe chinois onto an unsuspecting kumamoto oyster below. Delicious, actually. We then had to stack the demolished plates under my chair to free up our hands for oyster play. It made the waitress giggle, and we thought it was fun. However, other eaters may have different standards, and they should order sequentially.

The best move would be to arrive early for a first round during the 5-7 pm Happy Hour when oysters (one special per day) are sold at only 1€ a piece. Wash them down with a good bottle of Muscadet from Marc Olivier for 22€ or an even better Muscadet from Guy Bossard for 34€.  Then order everything on Haan’s food menu, and as many drinks  as you can stand from Carlos (ex-L’Hotel) Madriz’ cocktail menu. You will float out very full and, like the namesake sea vessel, on your way to wandering lost.

For more details, including address and hours, see the page for Le Mary Celeste in Our Guide to Paris Restaurants.

Goumard Paris

Goumard

This historic spot is known for oysters and grand platters of fruits de mer, as well as its classified, Louis Majorelle – designed art deco toilettes.

Practical information

Address: 9 rue Duphot, 75001
Nearest transport: Madeleine (8, 12, 14)
Hours: Open every day
Reservations: Last minute booking usually OK
Telephone: 01 42 60 36 07
Website
[cetsEmbedGmap src=http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=202475318786031781734.0004a33aa88a3b22c4546&ll=48.868122,2.32565&spn=0.003465,0.009645&z=17 width=500 height=325 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]View a map of all of our restaurants here.
Average price for lunch: 35-49€
Average price for dinner: 50-99€
Style of cuisine: Classic French, brasserie, seafood
Special attributes: standout seafood, late night bites, continuous all-day service, open Sunday, open Monday, valet parking
Type of crowd: suits, foodies, neighborhood locals
Interior: elegant & luxe
Atmosphere: formal

Reviews of interest

  • Figaroscope (2009) “Goumard a aménagé au rez-de-chaussée un petit comptoir de ­dégustation d’huîtres (29,10 € les 12 huîtres dont 3 belons n° 3) ouvert en continu de midi à ­minuit… Au menu ? De très belles huîtres plates ou creuses, spéciales ou fines de claire dont les ­remarquables huîtres d’Yvon Madec à Prat-ar-Coum.”
  • Alexander Lobrano (2009) “Gourmard has slimmed down a lot for this new century, and I’d certainly be willing to give it another go for the good value menu, but I couldn’t help but regretting what it once had been…”
  • John Talbott (2009) “I went today with a trusted palated friend and he and I were thoroughly pleased with the all inclusive menu (3 courses, 1/2 btle wine, 1/4 btle water and coffee) for 49 Euros.”

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