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Robb Report Vices

A Chef’s Guide to Manhattan Oysters

Since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, chef Galen Zamarra has trained under renowned French masters such as Michel Bras, Alain Passard, and Georges Blanc. In 2001, Zamarra won the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award for his work at Bouley restaurant in Manhattan. These days, the Swiss-born (and California-raised) chef is cooking up elegant new American cuisine at his two restaurants in New York’s West Village, Mas (farmhouse) and Mas (la grillade).

As an advocate of seasonal cooking that spotlights locally sourced ingredients, Zamarra is no stranger to oysters. With that in mind, we recently caught up with him—after a fabulous meal at Mas (la grillade)—to ask him about them.

What are your favorite ways to prepare oysters in your restaurants?

My favorite way to eat an oyster is raw. I like to serve them topped with a Champagne gelée and caviar. At Mas (la grillade), we grill them in the shells with a lemon-shallot butter.

What are your favorite oyster varieties, and what farms do you prefer to source them from?

Truthfully, I love West Coast oysters over East Coast. I grew up in California, and their taste reminds me of home. But I generally serve more local varieties here. I really like Island Creek oysters; they are versatile, can be served raw or cooked, the shells aren’t too brittle, and they have a complex flavor profile.

The Island Creek Oyster Company is my oyster source, not just for their oysters but for many local East Coast farms. They know their oysters and deliver them super fresh from the water. With oysters, that’s the most important factor.

What are the best spots to enjoy oysters in New York City?

Obviously, I’m biased. I loved the wood-fired oysters at Mas (la grillade). Some of my other favorites for oysters on the half shell are Aquagrill, Blue Ribbon, Balthazar, and Lure Fishbar.

Are there cocktails that you like to pair with oysters? If so, what do you enjoy most?

If you want spirits and oysters, there is no better place than New Orleans; I’m down there every year. In Nola, there are a lot of preparations like Rockefeller or Bienville. Those are great with absinthe or Pernod, or the Hotel Monteleone’s Death in the Afternoon, which is made with Ted Breaux’s absinthe and Champagne.

Here in the city, New York Distilling Company’s Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin makes for a fine martini. Also, Industry City distills a vodka (Industry Standard) that I’ve been liking in my Bloody Marys. To that end, a Bloody Mary is an easy choice, and it saves you the time dumping cocktail sauce on the poor thing.

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