Olympias are itty bitty. Pacifics are jagged ovals. Kumamotos, a tad shallow and fluted. Kusshis carry a deeper cup.
Ask a server for a selection of raw oysters-on-the-half-shell in March at any Anthony’s Restaurant, and the reward will be a bounty of bivalves.
March is the best month to visit local Anthony’s restaurants. One sits on the water at Tacoma’s Point Defiance and the other overlooks the Gig Harbor waterfront. Both boast this-is-why-we-live-here views.
This is the month that Anthony’s boosts its oysters-on-the-half-shell offerings and adds oyster entrees and oyster friendly wines to the menu. You have two weeks to enjoy them because they exit the menu come April.
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Here’s a look at this month’s oyster features, plus tasting notes.
Two ways to eat raw oysters: The first is to slurp as many as you can in the Anthony’s bar at 6 p.m. Fridays in March at the oyster slurp contest, with winners taking home prizes (call each restaurant for details). The goal is to slurp down a dozen oysters as quickly as one can, but without hands. That sounds like way too much pressure to me.
For us lazy eaters: You can settle into a seat and ask a server to bring an offering of raw oysters ($22), and you’ll get a selection hand-picked by the restaurant. Or, order them a la carte from the fresh list.
Fresh oysters a la carte include: The rotation changes due to availability, but the menu should always list Anthony’s select Pacifics ($3.25), which are grown for Anthony’s by Johnson & Gunstone. That bivalve partnership dates back to when founder Budd Gould bought clams from the farm in the restaurant’s early days. These particular firm-textured oysters are raised at Quinney Point in Discovery Bay.
Hama Hamas ($3.75), the mild oysters with a lesser briny finish, also should be available, as well as the kumamotos ($4), the slightly creamy oyster. Anthony’s is sourcing its kumamotos right now from Humboldt.
Kusshis, the tumbled oyster with a deep cup and sweet meat, also most likely will be available ($4). They’re sourced from Stellar Bay, Canada and should be the first ones you order if you like oysters on the sweeter side.
The Virginica ($4.50) is worth ordering for its rich, buttery flavor and bouncy texture. Typically thought of as an East Coast oyster variety, these particular ones have migrated here (on purpose, brought here by oyster farmers) and hail from the Totten Inlet in South Puget Sound. A chef once described them to me as having a wisp of watermelon flavor, and that’s a perfect description.
Lucky diners might see the small-and-sweet Olympias and Barron Point oysters, which are a soft-textured oyster that Anthony’s sources from Wallin Oysters. They’re grown near Olympia in the Little Skookum Inlet of Puget Sound.
Oyster starters and entrees: March oyster specials include panko-breaded oysters in a tonkatsu bowl ($17), as a tonkatsu appetizer ($13), a bowl of oyster-fennel stew ($10), oyster tacos with tortilla chips and salsa ($12), an oyster taco and chowder combo ($14), pan-fried oysters ($19) and more.
If you get one oyster entree, make it: The crispy oyster tonkatsu bowl was the must-order of the bunch for its textural and flavor dissonance ($17). It was full of crunch and pucker. Crispy panko-breaded fried oysters fanned out across a bed of warm Jasmine rice flanked by a crunchy pile of shredded iceberg that carried a dynamite sesame dressing. A mellow tonkatsu sauce dripped across those panko-jacketed oysters. Pickled veggies were the flavor surprise — I couldn’t get enough of the quick-pickled cucumbers, daikon slices and bursts of crunchy red pepper. (Those same crispy oysters come as tonkatsu-themed appetizer with katsu sauce and cucumber relish, $13.)
Also get: The oyster-fennel stew was lightened up significantly with a broth fortified with cream in lieu of a heavy roux base I see so often on an oyster stew ($10). I couldn’t get enough of the crunchy fennel sunk into the bowl with big, plump oysters that tasted just shucked.
This old standby: Breaded oysters are a safe order anytime at Anthony’s, and the version here comes loaded up with a flour-based breading, a big portion of fries and coleslaw on the side ($19).
Order, but with an addition: The oyster tacos, built on grilled flour tortillas, carried those same delightfully crunchy oysters as the tonkatsu bowl. However, they needed some flavor help. Consider requesting a lime wedge to add a little pluck of acid to the mayo-heavy slaw tucked in with the oysters ($12).
Oyster wines: The oyster friendly wine list changes frequently, but I spotted sauvignon blanc from H3 by Columbia Crest ($8.50 glass/$34 bottle), an albariño from Idilico ($9.50/$38) and a pinot gris from Boomtown ($9.50/$38).
What about Harbor Lights? The Anthony’s sister restaurant on the Ruston waterfront doesn’t carry oysters-on-the-half-shell, but it will rotate oyster entrees onto the menu this month. 2761 N. Ruston Way, Tacoma, 253-752-8600.
If you can’t make it in March, I have a suggestion for a local restaurant with an ever-changing and growing menu of raw oysters on-the-half shell all the time. 3uilt — pronounced Built— operates at downtown’s Tacoma’s 7 Seas Brewery. The restaurant carries Taylor Shellfish and Chelsea Farms oysters. The fresh sheet typically lists a half dozen varieties.
Tip: This is a casual spot where diners seat themselves. Order eats at the restaurant counter across the taproom from the beer counter. 2101 Jefferson Ave., Tacoma, facebook.com/3uiltTacoma.
Tacoma: 5910 N. Waterfront Dr., 253-752-9700
Gig Harbor: 8827 N. Harborview Dr., 253-853-6353