You’ve probably gone to your fair share of $1 oyster happy hours, or guzzled an oyster shooter or two– maybe you’ve dipped fried oysters in a nice aioli. But have you ever had them pickled? Or poached in butter, cream, and sherry? Marco Canora, owner of acclaimed Italian restaurant Hearth, plans to go beyond the usual raw-bar menu when he opens Zadie’s Oyster Room on Thursday.
Canora is reaching back into New York history to bring these recipes and styles to a modern audience. “I always had it in my mind to make a turn-of-the-century grand oyster bar,” he explained. “I would go to the New York Public Library and did a boatload of research and gathered old menus from that era,” he said, describing his fascination with the oyster industry that thrived in the city’s harbors in the late 19th and early 20th century.
During his research, he was struck by their sheer proliferation of oyster bars in Manhattan. “They called them oyster rooms, oyster cellars – because a lot of them were underground –, oyster saloons… there was all this verbiage around oyster bars, there were a lot of words for oyster rooms,” he said.
The restaurant’s name wasn’t the only thing inspired by his research. “All the menus that I kept, they had a phrase or comment that was common, which was ‘oysters served in every style.’ Back in the day, you really saw a lot more in the preparation of oysters,” he reflected. “We’ve gotten away from that, and I’d like to get back to that.”
To that end, his menu does offer oysters “in every style”: baked, broiled, steamed, fried, pickled, poached, and raw.
“Poaching oysters is a very old-school approach,” the chef said. “It’s about not shying away from butter and cream, and fortified wines were really big in the day, so I’m using vermouth, and I’m using sherry.” But Canora couldn’t resist adding a bit of a modern twist: “All of my cooked oyster dishes incorporate seaweed. They really compliment and amplify the flavor of the oysters.”
There will also be a modest selection of small plates available for those who might want to venture out of the oyster realm, including an anchovy butter served with brown bread, and a smoked bluefish pâté.
As for drinks, Canora has decided to hone in on one particular style of beverage that pairs oh-so-well with oysters. “People forget that every wine-making region in the world has a form of bubbly,” he said. “There are a lot of cultures that do their own version.” As such, he’s not only including the usual suspects such as Champagne and Prosecco on the menu. There will also be Cava, a variety of sparkling red wines and rosés, as well as a solid beer and cider selection.
Naturally, the interior matches the turn-of-the-century aesthetic. “Most of it is the name and the logo, which feels very whimsical and Old World,” Canora mentioned. “We custom-made this wallpaper in a sea-foam green with a seaweed pattern, and we have cool ornate old-school mirrors on the wall.”
Canora is quite active on the corner of East 12th Street and First Avenue: Zadie’s is in the space that previously held Canora’s wine bar Fifty Paces (formerly Terroir), and is just down the street from Hearth and Brodo.
Zadie’s Oyster Room, 413 East 12th St between 1st Ave and Ave A, Sunday-Wednesday: 5pm-12am, Thursday-Saturday: 5pm-2am, with eventual 11:30am openings on weekends.