by Ian McNulty
When you need an oyster dish or two, raw, fried or grilled are the predictable and delicious safe bets. But what happens when you need more like two-dozen different oyster dishes?
In the case of the New Orleans Oyster Festival, planned for June 2-3, you get smoked oyster boudin balls with Rockefeller aioli from Bourbon House; oyster and meat pies from Remoulade, the casual spin-off of Arnaud’s; or fried oysters with foie gras and truffle oil, courtesy of Elizabeth’s Restaurant.
Those are a few of the examples of the oyster dishes on offer at the third annual Oyster Festival, which this year will be held at Woldenberg Riverfront Park.
There are many more. Galatoire’s will serve its fried, bacon-wrapped oysters brochette as a po-boy, for instance; Antoine’s is bringing its oysters bonne femme, a gratin-style dish with crabmeat and cheese; and Borgne is making oysters Amandine.
The 20 restaurants participating as vendors this year are bringing more than oyster dishes to the event (Elizabeth’s will have its famous praline bacon, for instance, and Antoine’s will somehow make its baked Alaska into festival food), but of course our beloved bivalves are the focus of this three-year-old fest.
Underlying it all is a message about what the oyster industry means to south Louisiana. The festival, organized by members of the state’s oyster industry, was conceived to shine more light on the bounty of the Louisiana oyster harvest and to cement New Orleans’ reputation as the oyster capital based both on the tremendous oyster production from nearby waters and the volumes of oysters that locals and visitors dispatch here. Organizers say proceeds will help support the local oyster community, as well as the NOPD’s French Quarter-based Eighth District.
The festival is held in June in part to challenge the widely-accepted anecdote that oysters are best avoided in months whose names are spelled without the letter r, like, for instance, June. Oyster industry types will tell you that axiom took root in the days before modern refrigeration, when oysters were more likely to spoil during the hot journey from boat to bar. Louisiana oysters are not at their fullest in the summer time, but they are available year-round, and some aficionados maintain that June can actually be the pinnacle of the oyster season before it falls off in the summer again.
Special events at this year’s Oyster Festival include the P&J Oyster Shucking Competition and the New Orleans Fish House Largest Oyster Contest on June 2 and the Acme Oyster Eating Contest on June 3.
Local bands perform throughout the day, admission is free and Oyster Festival goes from 1 p.m.-9 p.m. on June 2 and from 12:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. on June 3.
A few days before the festival, on Wednesday, May 30, Bourbon House will hold its own annual Wine & Gulf Oyster Pairing event, with the public invited to sample select wines beside local oysters and vote for their favorite pairing. Participants pay $15 and get a half-dozen oysters and tasting portions of five white wines, served in a blind tasting fashion. The event will be held in a private dining room at Bourbon House from 5-7 p.m., with participants welcome to arrive at any point in that time frame. Reservations are recommended. The winning pairing will be posted to the restaurant’s blog.