Friday night we had dinner at Shaffer City. Folks have been posting about it a lot lately and my wife and I were pretty excited. We're going through some sort of oyster phase and have been blowing lots of money (credit) lately on high-end oyster places.
A few thoughts for anyone as oyster-obsessed as we are:
Prepared food: We were focussing on oysters, so we tried only a special salad (frisee, oranges, beets, stilton - quite good, a little heavy on the cheese) and the fried oysters (served in the shell with creamed spinach and drizzled with a tangy/creamy sauce. It seems like all the fancy fish places serve fried oysters this way. Anyone know if this is a classic recipe or just a local trend?) - also very good.
Service: Very nice. Our waiter was patient and helpful. Mr. Shaffer was all over the dining room offering friendly advice and commentary. He inspected and approved of our oyster choices, told a few brief stories and gave us encouraging nods and pats.
Oyster selection: terrific - comparable to Grand Central Oyster Bar and bigger than at Aquagrill, which has a widely varied raw menu.
Quality: Again, very high: We tried about 15 varieties of both Atlantic and Pacific oysters. All were very fresh and we felt confident we were tasting top-quality of exemplars of each variety. Some we liked better than others, but that, obviously, is a matter of taste.
Presentation: This was the only really disappointing thing, but it mattered to us. Both Blue Ribbon (which on any given night only serves a couple of types of oyster, though they are always very good) and Aquagrill make a perfect mignonette. This is my favorite condiment for oysters as the light sweet-tartness really complements the shellfish without overpowering it.
Shaffer City's mignonette is crammed with cracked black peppercorns. I don't know if this is a traditional form of the sauce, or if Shaffer City is attempting to create some sort of signature version, but in either case it is a mistake. The sweetness of the vinegar and savory taste of the shallots are completely overwhelmed by the flavor of black pepper. Further, eating your oyster involves the unwelcome crunch of two or three hard peppercorns.
Though I realize I am indulging in ridiculously effete nitpicking, this put something of a damper on the experience.
So for anyone who doesn't care too much about the mignonette, or prefers cocktail sauce or lemon juice or no sauce at all, I'd say Shaffer City will be a real pleasure. For myself, I think Aquagrill and Blue Ribbon will remain my preferred raw bar destinations, though I am always looking for new options.
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