To say that McCormick & Schmick’s specializes in seafood is an understatement. The menu is printed daily, and boasts 32 to 40 fresh catches, ranging from Massachusetts scallops to Mahi Mahi from Ecuador. For those that delight in oysters from the raw bar, there are always eight varieties from which to choose. And, as McCormick & Schmick’s only offers farmed oysters whose environments are strictly monitored and controlled, they are shucked all year long.
John Gallagher, General Manager of McCormick & Schmick’s at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, explains that the restaurant serves farmed oysters because farming yields a more consistent product than those that are grown wild. Joe Hafner, Sous Chef, adds that oysters are farmed similarly to any crop. He explains that oyster seeds are placed either directly into sand or in suspended trays, racks, bags, bells, etc., to which they attach themselves and grow. These seeds filter the ocean water and sand and in doing so grow shells and flavor their plump flesh with the essence of the environments in which they’re grown. Reaching a marketable size usually takes between two and three years. Farmers plan years ahead and have oysters staggered enough to always have some on hand for sale. The water temperature is strictly monitored, and if it rises above 60 degrees, oysters enter the reproductive phase, rendering them inedible, which usually occurs during the summer. Farmers, however, are able to drop racks deeper in the ocean to control the temperature and continue growth year-round.
There are oysters for every palate at McCormick & Schmick’s. All are served on the half-shell atop crushed ice, accompanied by a lemon wedge and cocktail sauce. Not sure what to order? Hafner describes East Coast oysters as having a high salt content, bigger flatter shell, and a briny, beach-flavored finish, whereas West Coast oysters have a deeper cup, smaller meatier oyster, and a sweeter aftertaste, which he deems better for beginners. To better acquaint oneself with the varieties, Hafner also suggests ordering the Sampler, which doles out the top six oysters of the day.
The Charlestown Pond Oyster of Rhode Island, Gallagher’s favorite, is harvested only for McCormick & Schmick’s, and is the best East Coast seller. Its flesh is flat and silky, and its flavor begins salty, but lingers a subtle sweetness. Hafner prefers West coast oysters, and favors the Kumamoto oyster of Humboldt Bay, California. These oysters are cupped in smaller and deeper shells, and although meatier then the Charlestown variety, are creamy in texture and are much sweeter throughout. Other top sellers are St Simone oysters of New Brunswick, California and Golden Mantle oysters of Vancouver, B.C.
Celebrate the true essence of National Seafood Month at McCormick & Schmick’s by savoring the unadulterated tastes of farmed oysters.
Rhode Island, Charlestown Pond Oysters
Guide price: $19.90 per dozen
Just to ensure our editorial integrity, I had to go to McCormick & Schmick’s and check out these oysters (what a miserable job I have!). I sidled up to a plate of freshly shucked specimens that were deftly plated by Joe Hafner, Sous Chef. They are a smallish brown oyster in an attractive pale shell. I downed half a dozen, with a little lemon and a couple in the European style, with a small splash of white wine. I am not sure how you could taste an oyster with horseradish, but that’s a personal preference. They are sweet, not too strong and have a very delicate and subtle flavor. The liquor has a soft salty taste without a brackish finish. The flesh was not over chewy (something I hate) and they really did go down well! Definitely a great oyster for an appetizer with a glass of wine.