When Oyster Bah’s “people” invited me to come in for dinner, they had no idea that I had never had an oyster before…. or lobster, or clam or crab (imitation crab doesn’t count). Apparently I was not the only one new to oysters, because Oyster Bah has a “1st Oyster Club.” Oyster Bah memorializes the people who have lost their oyster virginity at the restaurant by placing their names on plaques on the walls.
Although everything I knew about oysters came from Mr. Bean, and despite my fear of fishy-tasting seafood, I was determined to get my name on that wall.
Because I didn’t even know how to choose an oyster (there are different varieties?!), Oyster Bah’s Managing Partner Bill Nevruz gave me some pointers. He told me that there are two main classifications for oysters: East Coast and West Coast. He suggested I start with an East Coast oyster as they are smaller and milder than the West Coast oysters.
I started with the Island Creek oyster ($3 each), hailing from the waters of Duxbury Harbor, MA. My waiter described oysters as the purest expression of the ocean in food form. Bill explained that eating an oyster was like being tossed around the ocean by waves. They were both exactly right.
The oyster had the chewy texture I expected, but I was shocked by how much it tasted like the ocean. I soon learned that most seafood tastes like salt water, to varying degrees. It’s the texture of different varieties of seafood that differs.
Because I have family in Seattle, I wanted to try oysters hailing from the Puget Sound. I topped the Eagle Rock oyster ($3 each) with champagne mignonette, a combination of champagne and ice, which came with the oysters. Despite the overwhelming size of the Eagle Rock compared to the Island Creek oyster, I preferred the flavor of the Eagle Rock oyster. It had a much milder, less salty flavor.
As I consume more oysters throughout my life, I will be able to describe the flavor of them in a much more sophisticated way. But for now, salty it is!
Like any reputable food writer, I ate the salty, squishy oysters like a champ and consumed one more of each to make sure that I had the right impression. While I don’t think I’ll be craving oysters anytime soon, I’m very happy that I tried them as I won’t be afraid to order them in the future.
After finishing my first experience with oysters, I moved onto something I was little bit more familiar with: poke. Much like last year’s kale trend and DC’s cupcake craze, poke has suddenly become all the rage in Chicago. It became an overnight sensation as places such as Alohe Poke Co. in the French Market, FireFin Poke Shop, and Mahalo began popping up all over Chicago. According to Chicago Magazine, Oyster Bah’s poke is the best in the city.
Oyster Bah’s Poke-Poke ($13.95) consists of tuna poke dressed with sesame and ginger, and a salmon poke dressed with cilantro and chili. Both poke were topped with delicious guacamole and served with tortilla chips. This dish was delicious and light — perfect for the humid 90 degree Chicago summer. While I preferred the tuna for its less fishy taste, both were top notch in terms of quality and flavor.
Oyster Bah acknowledged another overnight success, Pokemon Go, with this clever hommage to the game:
It must have been lucky because a Pidgin appeared on my companion’s plate.
While I’m not very experienced in the world of seafood, I have always loved calamari from a young age. Naturally, I had to see if Oyster Bah’s was up to my standards. The Wicked Calamari ($13.95) was well battered and served with a delicious tabasco butter sauce. The sauce was very unique; they need to bottle it and sell it! The sauce was more sour than spicy, with a creamy base, which perfectly complemented the battered squid. Included in the calamari were friend lemons and peppers. Unfortunately, I ate a lemon by surprise, which was quite sour and shocking. The calamari was not my favorite dish at Oyster Bah, which means that I’m no longer a seafood rookie and am developing a palate for seafood that isn’t covered in batter. Yay!
My second first of the evening was the New England Stuffies ($9.95) which were clam shells topped with Thanksgiving stuffing made of clam meat and other things. According to the menu, the stuffies were made of quahogs, celery, and chorizo. Before Oyster Bah, I thought Quahog was a town in Family Guy, but it turns out they’re hard clams.
The dish had a wonderful garlic flavor. The stuffing tasted a bit fishy which was slightly off-putting at first, but the more I ate, the more I liked it (I think that’s how seafood works). I topped my stuffy with the tabasco butter from the calamari and it was delicious.
My third first of the evening was crab. I’ve had crab (or its imitation) in sushi, but never on its own or in a crab-based dish. The Crispy Soft Shell Crabs ($26.95) came on a beautiful plate of frisee, tomatoes, and sweet corn puree. The crab must’ve been battered in corn meal because it tasted like a tortilla to me. I was surprised that the crab didn’t have that much of its own flavor. The texture of the crab meat in the body was great: soft, but still dense. The legs, which I was told I could eat, were a bit more scratchy. The bed of sweet corn, frisee and tomatoes were a wonderful complement and gave the dish a Mexican flair. The tomatoes were juicy and much more flavorful than what I find at the grocery store.
My fourth, and favorite, first of the meal was lobster. By the time the Maine Lobster Rolls ($27.95) came out, I was stuffed from the previous five courses. I had to slow my roll (pun intended) so I munched on some fries, which were fantastic. They were sliced thin and served crispy and hot.
After pacing myself, I finally dug into a lobster roll. The roll was soft and buttery, and both savory and sweet. The lobster was deliciously juicy and plump. It was marinated in mayonnaise and topped with celery and scallions, which complemented the meat very nicely.
By the time the Crispy Fish Tacos ($16.95) came out, I was filled to the brim with all kinds of seafood. However, I had to sample my go-to seafood dish to let you guys know what it was like. The fish tasted fishier than the other fish tacos I have consumed, where the fish doesn’t really have its own flavor. The fish was batter-heavy. The red sauce was very spicy.
As most of the entree don’t come with sides, I also tried the Grilled Asparagus ($8.95). The dish was simple yet perfect. The grilling had left a lovely charred flavor on the asparagus. The texture was a balance of cooked yet crunchy. The lemon dressing and sea salt were barely there but effective.
My waiter recommended the Starb’rd ($12.50), a cocktail consisting of tequila, pamplemousse (French for “grapefruit”) rosé, lillet, grapefruit, ginger, and lemon. The cocktail was a combination of tangy, spicy, and sweet, in that order, with no one flavor overwhelming the rest.
Because of my affinity for tiki drinks, I tried the Old Sailor ($12), made of plantation pineapple rum, mint, lime, and pineapple. I couldn’t taste too much besides the pineapple and the rum. It wasn’t my favorite tiki drink of all time.
I got a slice of Coconut Cake to go. It was FANTASTIC. Despite being stuffed, my boyfriend and I consumed nearly the entire thing just after I got home from the restaurant. The cake consists of layers of plain cake, vanilla custard, and coconut frosting. While most cakes in America consist of thick layers of plain cake and are too dry, the custard was a perfect antidote to this problem. It was so moist. Even the “plain” cake was extraordinary and was definitely house made.
Oyster Bah brings the East Coast to the Third Coast with its coastal charm. From life preservers to fishing nets, Oyster Bah has everything to make you feel like you’re by the ocean.
The Bottom Line:
Oyster Bah is a taste of the East Coast on the Third Coast. It’s a great spot for seafood rookies and pros alike.
1962 N. Halsted St. (Lincoln Park)
Chicago, IL 60614