The Culinary Contrarian is back, this time visiting a Chinese restaurant and an oyster-heavy establishment, eventually finding fulfillment in a test of the oyster shots at 169 Bar.
Everyone needs to get away from campus now and then. Whether it’s because you yearn for novel experiences, or because a particular chair in Butler is perfectly molded to your asscheeks, sometimes it’s good to get a breath of relatively fresh city air. As the saying goes, “with new air comes new food,” and the Culinary Contrarian is no exception to any completely made up aphorism. Similarly, when told by a friend that he would “take me down to Chinatown,” I shook his hand thankfully, and made him get the next 1 train with me towards Canal. Once arrived in the Orient-cum-Occident, I dined at a Dim Sum restaurant known as Nom Wah Tea Parlor. The food was top notch, and yet it is not the subject of this installation of the Culinary Contrarian, for my order was surprisingly Ordinarian. After I left said Tea Parlor, I walked for a few minutes to find a bar, the true target that lay in the sights of my Culinary Crosshairs, and by that I don’t mean my matted pubic hair. Rather, I mean 169 Bar, also known as Charles Hanson’s 169 Soul Jazz Oyster Bar, which is an olympian’s stone’s throw away from the more lively Rivington “scene,” and yet, is filled to the brim with customers, eager to sip from its nacreous briny cup.
Once past the bouncer, who had aggressively carded my father (I did mention I was with my father, right?) I grabbed a booth and slid in. I caught the eye of a fellow bargoer who licked lips at me, and worried briefly that I had mistakenly entered the notorious “I 69 Bar” across the street. Unperturbed, and despite being stuffed to the gills with noodles and dumplings to the point that, were I to have gills, they would be trailing some kind of meat/noodle concoction, I saw something that attracted my eye on the menu. Oysters, in many forms, appeared on the page. Not literally, as that would be disgusting, and would probably be considered a health violation, but rather there were entries of oyster dishes that one could order. Amongst these, I caught sight of an “oyster shooter” which was described as “a mini bloody mary with an oyster in it.” My Contrarian senses tingled, and I knew at once that I must order some oyster alcohol. I motioned madly to the waitress, who came over and explained that the oyster shooters were, in fact, like a bloody mary in some senses, but that the vodka had been replaced by tequila. Intrigued, I finalized my order, and waited.
The shots came, and sure enough, a couple of bivalve molluscs lay at the bottom of them. I looked around for sources of courage, and saw only a leopard print pool table. “If that pool table has the balls to go out dressed like that, I can damn well do a shot of tequila and oyster,” I thought. So I did.
The taste sequence went from tequila, to bloody mary mix, to sea creature. In a flash, I wondered if the oysters were “well” oysters to match the “well” tequila I was drinking. The liquid component of the shot went quickly, albeit intensely, leaving me with an amorphous mass in my mouth, still unswallowed, as I was reeling from the alcohol. I eventually elected to reduce it in size, and had to tear it up into digestible chunks before an eventual swallow followed by relief. I would liken the experience to taking a shot of tequila and making out with someone, only to realize that you have bitten off a part of their tongue, and then deciding that you really want to eat that piece of tongue.
However, my oyster adventure was far from over. I spied a second oyster option on the menu, and made use of another fact on their menu that I had just noticed. As I confirmed on their website, 169 is “THE FIRST! establishment, in New York City, to introduce texting your menu order from your table!” I hastily texted a request for four “oysters à la Jameson” to the bar. The Jameson oysters are in the “Flambeaux” section of the menu, and are braised in the “flaming liquor” of your choice. I’m a whiskey man, or woman, myself, and thus the choice was as clear as the vodka I had missed in my oyster shooter.
Whatever reservations I had about the oyster shooters were tempered by the spectacular taste of this novel oyster offering. Served hot, the creatures were deliciously salty, and carried flavors of lemon and, unexpectedly, aged cheese. A warm oyster is normally cause for concern, and yet these helped me slip into a comforting night of paternal picklebacks and a well selected beer menu.
If you make the trip to 169 Bar, make sure to get there early, as the oysters are popular, leading to a queue outside. And don’t let your dad forget his ID.