It's spring and, as far as we're concerned, prime oyster-slurping time. Here are a few (okay, more than a few) places at which you can do just that.
Atop a bed of crushed ice await row after row of various oysters, purloined from our local tidal flats and transported to this Ballard haven of seafood. Bring mom, bring a date, bring the whole gang—this is a place beloved by all, especially bivalve fiends who can dig into happy hour (3:30 to 6 daily) for oysters on the half shell for two bucks each.
Seattle seafood legend Renee Erickson has reprised her Ballard oyster bar, the Walrus and the Carpenter, in this breezy Capitol Hill bar splashed with sprays of seafoam green and constructed as homage to the shores of Normandy and Brittany. Thus a bowl of manila clams may arrive with tarragon and rings of shallot, halibut crudo might be brightened with pickled cucumber and fresh rhubarb, brined and smoked leg of lamb may be served with the French egg sauce known as sauce gribiche—all in addition to the half dozen fresh oysters daily. If Melusine’s innovations are tamer than Walrus’s, they are no less satisfying—and they also include more meat. (Little surprise, here alongside Erickson’s French steak house, Bateau.)
It’s mostly an after-work and before-symphony crowd filling the circular bar. And they’re all ordering oysters, sourced from smaller farms along the upper West Coast. If you’ve got your party pants on, try the four-pour vodka sampler that’s paired with oysters and caviar. If you’re hoping to remember the rest of the night, ask for the oyster-paired flights of either white wine or beer.
The next-door sibling to Italian restaurant Vendemmia, this seafood market sells fresh local trout and salmon and halibut, sure. But also a small but stellar menu of seafood snacks, grab-and-go lunch and dinner items made next door at Vendemmia, and platters of freshly shucked oysters (not to mention a few glasses of wine to go with them).
It’s the stereotypically perfect Seattle location—dockside, screeching gulls, the smell of creosote and fried fish—with viewy outdoor pier tables in summer, so three trillion Seattle tourists leave our fair city thinking Seattle’s all about mediocre seafood served in corporate chain restaurants. What locals know, however, is that lurking beneath Elliott’s touristy exterior is the soul of a truly great oyster house. Off its 21-foot oyster bar, some 30 varieties of fresh, variously local oysters are available daily—Seattle’s best selection, respectfully treated.
Curmudgeonly Seattle journalist Emmett Watson was the original co-owner of this hidden Pike Place Market cranny lined with sky-blue booths. The menu, written on the back of a paper bag, just says, “Raw Oysters.” Usually it’s six kinds a day from farms around Washington. Reasonable expectations for garnish include a plate, a lemon wedge or two, and a wee plastic thimble of cocktail sauce. Maybe parsley if you’re lucky. Broiled oysters are a specialty, but the basket of fried shrimp and french fries will not disappoint. Nor will the cute courtyard.
With its endearing blend of decor both quirky (plywood walls) and glam (velvet settees, tufted white leather barstools), Frank’s levels a broad wink at its cocktail-swilling, oyster-slurping, steak-knifing clientele—and they love him right back. Because really, who wouldn’t love fried oysters or creamy goat cheese deviled eggs or copiously buttered lobster rolls—all preludes to big New York steaks, perhaps, or succulent pork chops with pear salad and celery root puree? Yep, the retro food is winking at you, too, but it’s executed with such respect (and served with such terrific bubbly and cocktails) there’s simply no way to dismiss the place. Desserts run to exceptional creamy things, particularly a banana split with housemade ice creams and bruleed bananas.
Bellevue has taken to this restaurateur’s restaurant with relish—and avocado-tomatillo salsa and tomato-thyme emulsion and…you get the idea. It’s all about globally embellished seafood, presented in creamy surroundings (expense accounters take note!) in a Bellevue high-rise. The headliner here is the raw bar, featuring noble Hawaiian ahi poke or Olympia oysters, perhaps, which purists will love. But chef John Howie also ranges all over the map to find something-for-everyone preparations—at times, alas, prepared to assembly-line standards.
The most fortuitously located restaurant downtown is a pricey paean to oysters and their briny brethren. In variety and freshness, the place does well by the bivalves, but after that, the catch of the day is your best bet. The rest of the seafood—battered halibut and chips, Louie salads, these sorts of things—varies wildly from overcooked and overcoated to decent. The space, a former haberdashery in the corner of the well-heeled Fairmont, is a gleaming looker—big for business lunches—but cramped when it crowds up. Bring the platinum card.
Each of the three dining outposts of the premier oyster farmer in the Northwest has its own menu and ambience—a pregame-fried-food feel at Pioneer Square, a bright intimacy at Seattle Center, a fish market bustle at Capitol Hill—but each forefronts oysters, which you must order. Get them by the dozen or in the form of Xinh’s oyster stew, which is like slurping the nectar straight out of the shell.
From the idiosyncratic French sensibilities of the prolific Renee Erickson comes a Ballard nosh bar par excellence. Settle into the whitewashed-and-windowpaned rusticity (dig the enormous, coralesque chandelier) and nibble a melon and cucumber salad or fresh oysters with champagne mignonette, the house specialty. Or cobble together a few heartier dishes—gin-cured Copper River salmon, perhaps, or breathtaking steak tartare with egg yolk and toast—and call it dinner. Thoughtfully selected Euro wines and a list of Frenchy cocktails lubricate richly. From its position on the backside of Ballard Avenue’s Staple and Fancy (the two share a windowed wall) the Walrus is at once at the center of everything and away from it all; on the back patio you can smell the tide turning.
In summer it’s pure Hamptons, as you tie your boat to the North Lake Union dock and slurp beautifully shucked oysters at an adirondack chair on the tiny beach. In winter it’s all about the cozy, sipping inspired cocktails in the glow of the hearth oven. Inventions can miss from time to time, and the place can suffer from a surfeit of tropes. But oh, that beach in summer.
From the good folks who brought us Matt’s in the Market and Radiator Whiskey comes a waterside pub along the docks of South Lake Union, which treats seafood as robustly as Radiator treats meat. The entryway, and indeed the whole place, is confusing—is it a cozy, bro-ey bar or a sit-in-the-sun restaurant?—but nails elements of both, with casual food like clam chowder poutine, deep-fried brussels sprouts, steamed clams, and fried oyster salad taking no time becoming some of the city’s famous craveables. When it moves into more ambitious realms, spendy halibut in experimental preparations for instance, the kitchen can falter, so keep it simple. An adjoining fish-and-chip shack, 100 Pound Clam, services a glorious outdoor patio with steamed clams, deep-fried corn, and other delectable reminders of why we live here.