The Ultimate Oyster Experience on the 'Oyster Bus' in Seattle

[Photographs: Naomi Bishop]

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!...A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk, along the briny beach"

So says the walrus to the carpenter in Lewis Carroll's poem named for those same characters, as they embark upon a midnight feast of oysters. At the risk of sounding like someone who just woke up from an amazing first date, it's difficult to imagine how any oyster-eating experience could improve upon the Walrus and Carpenter Low Tide Picnic, which is based on this poem. An empty beach, a 'sulkily shining' moon, such quantities of sand, and yes, that briny beach, make for a magical evening recreated for oyster enthusiasts by seafood guru Jon Rowley and Taylor Shellfish Farms.

Picking the Perfect Oyster

Low tide in the winter is prime oyster-eating time, when the plump, clean-tasting oysters, brimming with briny flavor, are naturally refrigerated. Then the sea rolls out, leaving fields of them on the beach for picking. Tables hug the tide line, brimming with each of the four types of oysters commonly grown in the Northwest: Olympia, Virginica, Pacific, and Kumamoto, with many more underfoot in their natural environment. As the tide moves out, the lanterns lighting the beach and the tables—also filled with wines deemed best for pairing with oysters—are moved to match the water's edge.

A Determined Shucker

The "oyster bus" as it's known among food lovers in Seattle, is a fundraiser for the Puget Sound Restoration Fund (tickets are $125), which works with Taylor and other oyster farmers to restore native oyster populations and use them for environmental improvement. It leaves from downtown Seattle two or three times a year for the hour-plus drive to the Shelton, WA oysterbeds. Rowley, the events' organizer, uses the ride to introduce everyone to Northwest oysters and their growers.

Oysters in a Basket

Jeff Pearson is part of the fourth generation of family working at Taylor Shellfish Farms, and this event, he tells the bus-full of people, is what he considers the ultimate oyster experience. The cool evening beach and its effect on slurping freshly-shucked oysters are what he strives to recreate in an indoor setting at his oyster bars (Taylor currently has one shop in Seattle, and has plans to open at least two more). His staff of shuckers is waiting on the beach to crack open hundreds of bivalves, or to help people learn to do it themselves.

Rowley continues the bus lesson by describing the way to pair a freshly-shucked oyster with wine. He goes by the handle @oysterwine on Twitter, the name he uses for his "dating service" for oysters in search of their ideal wine match. He instructs everyone on the proper way to eat an oyster with wine. "Think of the wine as an accoutrement," he says, adding that additional accoutrements should not be used (basically, put down the horseradish).

Steps for eating oysters with wine:

  1. Slurp the oyster
  2. Chew the oyster, so that all the flavors come out
  3. Sip the oyster wine

Check out the slideshow for a figurative taste of the cold bivalves, or perhaps a cup of oyster stew, when even a glass of Sauvignon Blanc can't stave off the chill of a Pacific Northwest winter night.

For more information, and to make sure you don't miss next year's bus, follow @oysterwine on Twitter and keep an eye on the Taylor Shellfish site.