Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Carlsbad Aquafarm - An Oyster Purveyor

Carlsbad Aquafarm

My first encounter with a raw oyster was about eight years ago and I remembered feeling curious and anxious as I stared at this soft, slimy-gray creature that resembled a bodily organ. It was peacefully floating in a bed of salmon roe and fresh uni, and drowned by a nameless sake. It wasn't on the half-shell but it was definitely a real oyster. My friends passed the glass to me and we all held it up in a strange, gratuitous toast to friendship and whatever oceanic concoction brewing in my glass.

First, the taste of the cheap sake. Gross.
Second, an avalanche of salty salmon roe and mushiness that is uni. Mmmmm.
And finally, the soft foreign object that feels like an oblong egg yolk. *Gag*

This is the point in time where your brain has the finger on the gag reflex switch in your body. It will either project the foreign object as your eyes well up in tears, or it will let it go down smoothly like a fat kid on a water park slide. But instead of swallowing it all, I sank my teeth into that creature as though I hated it. And to my surprise, my eyes lit up in sheer happiness. This. Was. Delicious. I watched as my other friends uttered their enjoyment for that same oyster. The next question I asked was, "can we do some more?" We ended up ordering oysters on the half shell, not that circus bullshit in the glass. And it was that day that I developed an appreciation for one of the world's most unique, pure and delicious foods – the oyster.

To me, there is nothing hotter than a raw bar. Unadulterated food, tasty beer and good company – that's all that's needed for a good time. As an oyster predator, I love eating at Swan Oyster Depot and Bar Crudo in San Francisco, Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City and of course, Los Angeles's Hungry Cat. I also heard that Anisette in Santa Monica has a decent raw bar. But the problem is, eating oysters outside can prove to be a bad move during this recession. J wasn't too happy with my $90 tab at Grand Central Oyster Bar... a place that touts over 38 types of oysters and nearly 200 types of wine. Bad bad bad!

But I found an economic solution to one of my many bad habits. J and I were checking out the Hollywood Farmers Market for the first time a few weeks back and like a person seeing Machu Picchu through the sharp, jungle brush for the first time, I found what I was looking for: a vendor selling fresh oysters on the spot.

Carlsbad Aquafarm
, located in uh, Carlsbad, comes to the Santa Monica Farmers Market on Saturdays and Hollywood Farmers Market on Sundays. Rob of Carlsbad Aquafarms drives up each day at 5 am with a van full of seafood candy. On this day, Rob had four types of oysters on display: Catalinas, Lunas, Carlsbad Blondes and Endless Summers. In addition to oysters, CA offers California Ocean mussels, Sunburst clams, medley mixes and live scallops (call in advance and he'll bring the following week).

Carlsbad Aquafarm Catalina Oysters

The going rate for a half dozen oysters on the half shell is $15. Not good considering I can do at least 18 on my own in a single sitting. But thanks to candyman Rob, you can bring home a dozen oysters for only $9.99. That's $0.83 a piece vs. $2.50 a piece outside. For $2, you can sample any of CA's oysters.

Carlsbad Aquafarm Rob Shucking Oysters

Carlsbad Aquafarm Rob Shucking Oysters

Carlsbad Aquafarm Rob Shucking Oysters

Shucked Oysters

That day, I ended up buying 3.5 dozens of oysters and threw them in a cooler. I immediately called my oyster friend/ramen whore friend, Rameniac, and explained to him the deeds that needed to be done today. 2 hours later, Rameniac and his friend showed up. We headed over to Silver Lake Wine for something to pair with the oysters. George, formerly the sommelier at Campanile, immediately knew what to recommend. I told him the oysters were briny with a cucumber finish. He suggested these.


Muscadet Sevre Et Maine
What's interesting about this wine is that, like oysters, these grapes are grown in the area where the rivers meet the oceans. This is an area that is not too cold nor too warm, and for oysters, this is the optimal condition for proliferation. According to George, this is a favorite with shellfish.


Paco & Lola Albarino
I don't know why he picked this one. Maybe because the label is kind of cool and the fact that it's from the Basque Country. This one has a strong floral aroma which would be good with an oyster that is delicate in taste.

Before moving on, I wanted to talk about the 'process' of eating an oyster. I learned about this from the wonderful book A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur's Guide to Oyster Eating in North America by Rowan Jacobsen, and it changed the way I eat oysters.

There are three things that happen as you eat an oyster.

(1) As you hold the oyster, you taste the liquor first. And it'll either be sweet or briny.

(2) You then use a fork to push the oyster into your mouth and then you chew 2-3 times. The second your teeth come down on the oyster, you'll experience a nice pop like the yolk on a sunny side up egg. You want the internal fluids to spill out and you want to feel its texture. And it'll be a sweet or creamy taste.

(3) Once the fluids mix with the liquor, there will be a final finish.

If you completely down the oyster and liquor without chewing, you've missed the whole point of eating an oyster. And the usage of lemon juice and mignonette is most ideal for eating oysters because saltiness/brininess is cancelled out by citric acid. Horseradish and hot sauce will mask the integrity of the oyster.

Endless Summer & Luna Oysters

Endless Summers
Rob remembered me and immediately offered this to me because he didn't have it last time I was there. If you go up to the photo with Rob holding the oyster shell, that's the Endless Summer. And it's huge. They are typically deep cupped meaning the oyster has more room to grow and has a lot more liquor, which people love or hate. Upon opening this, you can't help but back up a little. Although it's not as big as a Belon (shell the size of a hand!) or European Flat, this would definitely be in the 3-bite tier. I got the oyster ready for the 3-step process.

(1) Very briny liquor.
(2) Fresh, crunchy texture. Like a very weak bamboo shoot.
(3) Strong cucumber finish. Wow. The reason a lot of oysters will have a melon finish, according to Rowan Jacobsen, is that the starches produced in the oysters have the same molecular build as that of a melon.

Like the popular Kumamoto oyster grown in California and Pacific Northwest, these are mildly fruity and sweet. These are very easy to eat and usually considered the 'introductory' oyster. Lunas have a similar taste and to me, they are almost thinner and smaller than Kumamotos.

(1) Mildly sweet liquor.
(2) Soft texture. Not much bite.
(3) Light, sweet finish. These are small and have a very delicate taste.

Carlsbad Blonde & Catalina Oysters

Carlsbad Blondes
These oysters are called 'blonde' because their shell is more yellow vs. the green/brown shells you usually see.

(1) Mild, briny liquor.
(2) Soft texture.
(3) Very light metallic taste. But right away, a soft cucumber finish that isn't as pronounced as that of the Endless Summer.

These are similar in size to the Carlsbad Blondes.

(1) Mild, briny liquor.
(2) Medium texture.
(3) Soft cucumber finish.

Extinct Oysters

After an hour and a half, we had 39 oysters and 2 bottles of wine. And we could've had more. Much more.

Say hi to Rob and his candy of the sea on Saturdays at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market and on Sundays at the Hollywood Farmer's Market.

What are your favorite oysters? And if you're from outside of Los Angeles, please share the names of your local oyster goldmines.

Thanks for reading.

Carlsbad Aquafarm
4600 Carlsbad Blvd
Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 438-2444
Tours offered from M-F 8am - 5 pm


Anonymous said...

'twas truly a splendid meal. and thanks for the lesson in shucking! everybody should get their shuck on. the world would be a better place for it!

Anonymous said...

Is he at the Downtown Santa Monica Saturday farmers market or the Pico/Cloverfield market?

e d b m said...

Rameniac, ready when you are.

Anonymous, I'm gonna guess it's the one on Arizona on Saturday's. I didn't know there was more than one FM going on in SaMo.

One Food Guy said...

Mmmmm, oysters! I love oysters! I love blue points and kumamotos, I love Wellfleet oysters too! My favorite place in Boston to get oysters is at Neptune Oyster in the North End. East Coast Grill in Cambridge has a great raw bar too.

dealinhoz said...

OFG, those are all solid oysters! come to think of it, i really haven't met a bad oyster. well except for the large gulf ones from the warmer waters – those you have to be careful of the bacteria! not cool. I have family in Quincy – are those places anywhere nearby?

Eddie Lin said...

Welcome Back, Kotter! Oysters! Even you could seduce me with this meal...not that I'm gay or anything. Just saying theoretically.

nicolehong said...

hi, just a quick question.. on saturdays, is he at the downtown santa monica farmers market or the virginia park farmers market? thanks for the great post!

dealinhoz said...

Eddie, thanks! I think we should enjoy these oysters in separate locations sans alcohol haha. Or it could get ugly.

Nicole, I'm still trying to find out about that. If you scroll down here and look for Carlsbad Aquaculture


You'll see that this is for the SUNDAY market. can't be true b/c Rob's at the Hollywood Farmer's Market on Sunday. I'd think it's safe to say that it's the same location but on Saturdays?

Saturdays 9:30am - 1pm
at 2640 Main St.

Passionate Eater said...

What a great breakdown of the different tastes of all of the oysters. I could taste them in my mouth after reading your three-step breakdown. Welcome back!

e d b m said...

Hi PE! Thank you and happy new year to you as well. Down where you're at, the oysters are HUGE i hear. please fill us in.

Anonymous said...

wow that looks like an amazing spread... you can get all of those different varieties from one farm? Are they open to the public I wonder... sounds like the price is really good too.

little79bear said...

If you ever get over to Australia you've got to try our Sydney Rock Oysters. The best place to get them (in my humble opinion) is in a really small town called Tathra about 6 hours South of Sydney at Tathra Oysters (http://www.tathraoysters.com.au/). I was lucky enough to work down in that part of the world for a while and buying oysters from there was a highlight of the week when they were in season over the summer and autumn.

Anonymous said...

The Sunday SaMo market is on Main, the Saturday ones are on Arizona and at Virginia Park (and then the Wednesday on Arizona, of course). I know that there is an oyster guy at the Sunday market on Main, but I don't know if it's your man from C-Bad.

Anne said...

i know you are spoken for, but i *heart* you for this oysters post! *swoon*

dealinhoz said...

Foodhoe, 'tis a smorgasbord. Four varieties aren't a lot, but for a guy hauling them up from SD to a farmer's market, I couldn't ask for more. Sometimes though, he will have two types. I got lucky on that day with four types. Check their site. They offer tours in Carlsbad.

Little79BearinAustralia, thank you for the info. Do you know the characteristics of those oysters?

Jonah, thank you for the info. I will clarify in the posting. How's your adorable baby?

Anne, my pleasure. I have a few more oyster postings coming up.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for this post! can't wait to try them! i've been in such a mood for some good oysters.

Heidi Leon Monges said...

so delicious, everything: your blog, the amazing pictures and the great writing style you have.

Unfortunately, here in Shanghai we don't have such a variety of oysters and just 1 or 2 not too decent oysters bars...

Anonymous said...

Oh, yum! We've been buying from CA for the last couple of weeks at the Hollywood market, and had just finished a round of Endless Summers when we ran across this post. It made me hungry again. But you've inspired us to lose our inhibitions and indulge in an oyster feast next Sunday. Bless you.

(An fyi for other home oyster beginners -- we discovered last week that the Bed Bath & Beyond behind the Hollywood Farmers market does sell Oxo oyster knives, which are worth the $8 even if you only use them once. The folks at CA will show you how to shuck 'em.)

Anonymous said...

Looks great. What are some local markets that you would trust/recommend picking oysters up at?


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boody said...

You should be an oyster farmer. I can totally see it. haha. My best oyster experience was at gramercy tavern. I don't know what kind we ate, but they were delicious!!! Looking forward to seeing you two again! Hope you had fun at your party!

Anonymous said...

Those raw Oysters you brought to the superbowl party were bomb. Definately a tasty, salty, and sour thumbs up.

I didnt know there were so many ways to eat a oyster. Good post.

Next time I'll get some oysters from there. fantastic

dealinhoz said...

J Sunu, if you're based in LA, there are a few places to get them at. Hungry Cat, Anisette are the ones I know of. Father's office only has one kind and i didn't really care for them.

Heidileon, you may not have oysters there but you have like 382 other delicious things to eat so i wouldn't be too upset about it ha.

Peter, thanks for the information on the shuckers. I want my own handcrafted ones haha – with classic engraving by Things Remembered at the mall. Are those endless summers not delicious?

Tim, to tell you the truth, i wouldn't buy them at markets. God knows how long they have been out. I've seen some oysters at 99 Ranch and I'd really be careful with those – as a lot of them were open. If Redondo Beach isn't too far, check out Quality Seafood – a place that touts over 32 oysters everyday.

Boody, i want to be an oyster farmer. I heard gramercy tavern is great of course but how is it post-Chef Tom Colicchio?

Mac, glad you enjoyed the oysters. The Endless Summer you got was really huge.

Helena said...

This is rad! The whole site, but this post in particular. I've been obsessing about oysters lately and wanting to try more, find a good inexpensive source where there is a variety to buy. And thank you for the tips on how to enjoy! I've always wondered how much to chew, what (if anything) to dress them with, what to drink with, etc etc etc. I know these are mostly matters of taste, so it's nice to find someone with a good sense for that to take advice from.

em said...

Unfortunately, I just called and the aquafarm does not give tours. They share their front entrance with a power plant so that limits their public entry access. However, if you have orders of more than $100, they'll arrange access. For smaller orders, they distribute to local markets in the area.

for a peek at the farm, here's a post: http://tableauvivante.com/2008/08/19/food-carlsbad-aquafarm-abridged/

if you're looking for an oyster farm & shucking experience, i highly recommend hog island in marin country (an hour north of San Francisco)

Kevin Flick said...

Here is a GPSd photo at 3rd St market on a

Also another favorite of mine is the Grassfed Bison:
It has bison kidneys that are great for steak and kidney pie!

Creative-Type Dad said...

Reading this just made me so hungry.
I just love oysters - and now I'm ready to shuck.

Bank of words said...

Very interesting!!! I'm having a craving for oysters now :)

One thing though... The Lola&Paco AlbariƱo probably is not from the Basque country. Paco and Lola are traditional Spanish names (very awkward to find them on a Basque brand) and AlbariƱo wine is from Galicia.

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