Crab cakes. Belon oysters. St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc. Just a few picks by Alisha Bailey of Starfish in part 38 of the Must Tries Series, which asks people in the biz for their fave menu items. Bailey also gives some love to Mao Mao Chong, Sichuan Ren (四川仁) and Invincible Ramen — see below. And is starting an oyster club — see here. And kudos again to Bailey in the above-and-beyond category for the Clamato oyster shots last June and handling some ever-so-slightly tipsy Canadians last July.
The “must try” oyster
‘Must try’ oyster at Starfish? This is so hard… like choosing a favorite child. They are all so beautiful and unique. I don’t want to make the other ones jealous, but I guess if you were to only have one oyster at Starfish, it’d have to be our ‘house oyster‘, the Yaquina Bay oyster from Yaquina Bay, Oregon. It’s a lovely example of a typical Pacific oyster (crassostrea gigas), creamy with a little brine and just the faintest hint of melon and cucumber on the finish. It’s very delicate and is probably the easiest oyster to pair with wines, and depending on which wine it is paired with, can taste of pears, peach, cucumber, melons, or even minerals. I am fully aware that I sound a bit douchey when I talk about oysters, by the way, but I just can’t help myself. (Regular size oysters are rmb35 each, rmb168 for a half-dozen, rmb280 for a dozen. Large ones, about 10 to 14 centimeters, are rmb68.)
I’d like to point out that the Yaquina Bay oyster is not my personal favorite, though. I like the crazy briny, metallic, iodine-y oysters like the bad-ass Belons (ostrea edulis). We used to stock these regularly because they are such an interesting oyster but no one really got down with it so we don’t import it anymore, which makes me sad. I am trying to get people back into them, though, if only so that I can get my Belon fix. For now, though, the American east coast oysters (crassostrea virginica) tend to have that lovely brininess and deeply savory flavor I crave.
The ‘must try’ dish
Our kick-ass crab cakes! We use five different parts of the crab to give it varying textures and tastes. Plus, it’s almost all crab meat with very little ‘filler’. I dream of putting a poached egg on top of it with homemade hollandaise and turning it into crab cake benedict for our upcoming brunch menu. Stay tuned. It’s coming soon! Starfish’s crab cakes are rmb76.
The “must try” wines
On its own: St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc (rmb98 per glass, rmb450 per bottle) because its zesty grapefruit, kiwi, and guava flavors do what a great wine (and a great oyster) can do, which is transport me to another place. Very useful when Beijing is getting me down.
With oysters, something mineral, stoney, and very dry because the way it elevates certain foods is still surprising and delightful to me. Billi Billi Pinot Grigio (rmb340 per bottle), which is so unlike any other Pinot Grigio I’ve ever had, and Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner (rmb330 per bottle), because it’s one of my favorite grape varieties and it’s funny to say. I know I’m cheating by giving more than one, but like with oysters, I can’t choose a favorite. I’m an equal opportunity drinker.
Three other “must tries” in Beijing
The Bloody Mao at Mao Mao Chong. Stephanie knows just how I like it and makes it perfectly for me every single time.
The mushroom broth at this hot pot place in Shuangjing called Sichuan Ren (四川仁). Really simple, but the mushroom flavor is so potent. It’s like… every yummy mushroom ever foraged jumped into a pot and sacrificed themselves just for you.
The soft boiled egg that comes with all the ramen dishes at Invincible Ramen (the one on Xiaoyun Lu is better than the Sanlitun branch, in my opinion) is the most perfectly cooked egg ever. How do they get so much flavor into half an egg? Do they inject it with something? Can they inject me with it?!