Tuesday, December 24, $50-$75, 9:00 pm - 3:00 am
Free Christmas Eve? The thirty-third annual Matzoball for singles is taking place on December 24 at Capitale on Bowery, a holiday extravaganza running from nine at night to three the next morning. Partnering with the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, the all-night party started primarily for Jewish singles, but now singles of all religions and ethnicities are welcome, as long as they are twenty-one or over. General admission is $50, with the VIP Fast Pass offering front-of-line privileges and a half-hour open bar for $75. There will be a live DJ performance and lots of dancing and mingling; there will also be Matzoballs, which were founded in 1987 by Andrew Rudnick, held Christmas Eve in Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, DC, and three Florida cities. And as a bonus, it just happens to be Hanukkah as well.
Docks Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill
633 Third Ave. at Fortieth St.
Saturday, November 23, $65-$125, 12:00 - 3:00
“Before the twentieth century, when people thought of New York, they thought of oysters,” award-winning author Mark Kurlansky writes in the preface to his 2006 book The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. “This is what New York was to the world — a great oceangoing port where people ate succulent local oysters from their harbor. . . . Oysters were true New Yorkers.” So what is Docks Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill, a Murray Hill institution for four decades, doing hosting an All-Canadian Oyster Festival?
For more than fifteen years, Docks has been home to a fall and spring oyster festival, but last November, for the first time, it featured Canadian oysters exclusively, eighteen different varieties, in addition to holding a hotly contested shucking competition (with a $1,000 cash prize). The Canadian fest, which will also serve chowders and shrimp and includes live music by People vs. Larsen, returns November 23, with master Montreal-based oyster-shucking champion Daniel Notkin as MC and celebrity shucking judges Julie Qiu, oyster sommelier and founder of In a Half Shell, and chef Andrew Gruel, founder of Slapfish restaurants. Below is an edited, combined transcript of separate interviews I conducted with Notkin, Qiu, and Gruel as well as Docks executive chef Freda Sugarman and one of the event’s chief organizers, Emmy winner Michael-Ann Rowe, the Fishionista behind such shows as Off the Beaten Palate and Put Your Best Fish Forward.
twi-ny: When did you shuck your first oyster?
julie qiu: January 13, 2010 — my birthday, by chef Lawrence Edelman! I blogged about it before In a Half Shell existed. 😀
andrew gruel: Seventeen years old, working at Cook’s Lobster House on the lobster docks in Bailey’s Island, Maine. I shucked oysters and cherry stones all summer, suffering shellfish infection one after another from stabbing myself so many times.
twi-ny: What is the key to shucking an oyster?
ag: Don’t use muscle, take your time, breathe.
jq: It’s easy to learn, difficult to master. The key to shucking a good oyster is to use as little force as possible and to leave as little of a trace of blade as possible.
dn: We all shuck a bit differently depending on the area of North America and around the world. There are lots of ways to get into an oyster, but the key to opening an oyster is to get into that shell so that you’re not breaking it or causing it to crumble, separate that adductor muscle from the top of the shell, and that same adductor from the bottom and leave nothing behind. The oyster should be presented and opened as if it didn’t even know we were there — just like it was four seconds earlier locked in that shell.
twi-ny: What is the Shuckinhell list?
jq: Shuckinhell is a special category (and Instagram handle . . . not me) dedicated to the worst of the worst shucks that are paraded around as “good oysters.”
twi-ny: What’s the most common problem nonprofessionals have?
dn: There are a few! Getting into the hinge or into the shell I think is the hardest part. It can be very slight or very “tight” depending where you enter: If you go in through the “lip” (the slight opening where the top and bottom shells meet around the oyster) and that’s very tight, that can be tough. If you go in through the hinge (at the back where the shells are connected), that can be very small or very tight . . . and not having the right knife or one that’s too dull — that leads to a lot of problems and danger.
twi-ny: What is the greatest misconception New Yorkers have about oysters?
dn: Well, I actually think New Yorkers are doing great! New York was founded on oysters, and the resurgence and interest that New York and many cities have shown gives great joy and hope to all of us who care about ocean health and the preservation of our environment. Our good friends at the Billion Oyster Project in New York are just doing phenomenal work on educating young people about marine life and are making great strides with their efforts to repopulate the harbor and making it livable again for all species. No small task!
I think moreover that there’s just so much for them to learn about oysters that is fascinating. We addressed a lot of them in our documentary, Shuckers (that we hope to bring out on a platform soon), but they’re just amazing: Each single oyster filters fifty gallons of water a day (1M oysters = 50M gallons filtered!); that they don’t filter garbage or waste but rather algae and phytoplankton, which cloud up the waterways and if allowed to overpopulate cause red tide and death to all species; that they live in estuaries where the rivers meet the sea for just that reason; that they’re 650 million years old; that they’re one of the healthiest things you can eat on the planet; and that the more you eat them (these days) the more you’re saving the world!
Oysters used to be mostly wild but now they’re all farmed but have to be grown in natural waterways, so the more you eat oysters, the more money goes back to the farmers, the more we filter the water and replace the oysters that were once there, the more they have a greater appreciation and presence, and a greater voice to improve our oceans and water systems.
I think the only misconception is for those who choose not to eat oysters because they’re concerned about harming animals (i.e., vegans). Oysters have no central nervous system, no motility, no cognition, and likely the same bioreactionary traits we are now finding in lettuce and all plants and trees and all aspects of nature. All told, if you eat lettuce, you can feel okay, and even better eating an oyster.
twi-ny: Do New Yorkers really get into watching the competition, or are they too busy eating and drinking?
dn: Boy, can they get into it! When you get really good shuckers, it’s a great show. And you don’t have to sacrifice eating and drinking. Each round lasts about a minute and a half, so grab a drink, grab a lobster roll and a plate of oysters, and watch the show!
twi-ny: Why the switch to Canadian oysters from local fare?
freda sugarman: We felt that it was super important to showcase areas in Canada that produce incredible shellfish. I enjoy having a close connection with the farmers and love seeing their passion for their product.
twi-ny: What are some of the primary differences between Canadian oysters and oysters from, for example, the East Coast, the West Coast, and Japan?
jq: Wow, that’s a big question. Primary difference: Species. Environment. Growing methodologies. But that’s generally the differences between all oysters. Canadian oysters take a bit longer to mature than other oysters grown around the world. For that reason, some of them are petite in nature but have very complex and layered flavors.
twi-ny: What’s so special about Canadian oysters?
dn: Well! First off, all oysters are special. To say one was more special than the other would be like choosing a favorite child — ideally not possible. But what distinguishes our maritime Canadian oysters is their perseverance in the face of long winters and harsh conditions. That means each of these beautiful oysters in the small but perfect size of ~2.5-3" is that they take three to five years to get to that point. Which means they’ve weathered a number of storms, and the best and most hearty survive.
Compare this to a New England oyster, which takes one to one and a half years to grow to 2.5/3", and a Gulf oyster, which takes one year to grow to four inches. Well . . . these little guys put in the work. You get a beautifully clean taste and fresh, crisp character — cold butter and the fresh, clean salt of remaining ocean water with hints of a rich vegetal stock indicative of the algae they ingest. Beautiful oysters all.
twi-ny: What are your personal favorite oysters?
jq: I’m an equal opportunity international oyster lover. Can we make this question about favorite Canadian oysters? If that’s the case, I’m a fan of Village Bays from New Brunswick, Kusshi from Deep Bay, BC, and Raspberry Points from PEI.
ag: I will happily indulge in every type of Canadian oyster.
twi-ny: Freda, you prepare oysters several ways at Docks. How do you prefer to eat them?
fs: A simple touch of lemon.
twi-ny: And to drink?
fs: Everything goes well with tequila!
twi-ny: Michael-Ann, you’ve traveled all around North and South America writing about food. Where have you had the best oysters?
michael-ann rowe: Atlantic Canada. Seriously. Second to that is the US: Wellfleet (East Coast), and a surprise in Alabama were Murder Point Oysters.
twi-ny: You were born in Canada and live both there and in New York. Are there differences in how New Yorkers and Canadians eat oysters?
m-ar: Not really. They either douse them with a blast of pickled horseradish or eat them the right way. . . .
twi-ny: Which would be?
Salon du Chocolat
655 West 34th St. at 11th Ave.
Saturday, November 16, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm, and Sunday, November 17, 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Admission: $10-$25 in advance, $12-$35 onsite
The return of Salon du Chocolat to New York has attracted a big crowd to the Javits Center, where chocolate-obsessed minions can experience all things cacao, from samples and demonstrations to workshops and fashion. There are more than eighty booths and dozens of events, so navigating it can be tricky. Several popular purveyors — including two that are offering alcohol-infused chocolate — have long lines, so we suggest skipping those. However, where there are lines, please acknowledge them; we saw far too many people not honoring the queues, rudely pushing in front of others to snag a free bonbon, truffle, or nib. There is a lot to try, and many of the men and women behind the booths are the owners, chefs, or creators and love talking about their process, so do engage them (and perhaps even get a bonus taste). We were impressed with brands from South America (Hoja Verde — Global Cadena), New Zealand (Hogarth), Vanuatu (Aelan), Haiti (Askanya), and Vietnam (Marou) as well as New Jersey (Knipschildt), Connecticut (Le Rouge), Texas (Maggie Louise), and the Lower East Side (Roni Sue’s) on our international chocolate tour; below are some of our favorite stops.
655 West 34th St. at 11th Ave.
Saturday, November 16, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm, and Sunday, November 17, 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Admission: $10-$25 in advance, $12-$35 onsite
“All you need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt,” Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz wisely stated. Fall just hasn’t been the same since Salon du Chocolat stopped coming around here in 2011, but the multidimensional celebration of all things cacao is now back for a brand-new iteration, bringing love as well as delectable delights to the Javits Center November 16-17. More than eighty purveyors of ganache goodness will have booths, offering samples, selling their wares, and sharing their thoughts on what local chef Michael Levine calls “the world’s perfect food,” and who are we to argue?
The two-day festival features live chocolate sculpting by Paul Joachim (aka the Chocolate Genius), demonstrations and Q&As with master chocolatiers, interactive workshops, a family-friendly activity center, holiday shopping pop-ups, and the salon’s inestimable Chocolate Fashion Show, in which chefs and designers collaborate on remarkable works of art. If the advisory council is any indication, we should be in for a real treat: Jansen Chan, Martin Howard, Lisa Mansour, Håkan Mårtensson, Roger Rodriguez, Rich Leach, and Ed Seguine.
Among the participating vendors from all across the globe are Aelan Chocolate Makers, Amazing Cacao, Amedei Tuscany, AMMA Chocolate, Bang Cookies, Chocolate Therapy, Conexión Chocolate, Dorothy Cox’s Chocolates, Gotham Chocolates, Harlem Chocolate Factory, Läderach, M2 Confections, Makaya Chocolat, Mozart Chocolate Liqueur, Roni Sue’s Chocolates, and VillaKuyaya Organic Dark Chocolate. Also on hand is our all-time fave, Fritz Knipschildt, who introduced us to the wonders of sea salt and caramel with chocolate many years ago at the show.
The event website provides brief info on each vendor, including whether their chocolate is fair trade, gluten free, organic, or vegan, for those who need to know. Below is a complete list of all the special programs taking place. No matter how sad you might be about the bleak, cold days ahead as well as the political situation, be sure to come hungry; as a University College London study has just declared, there is “some evidence that consumption of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, may be associated with reduced odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms.”
Saturday, November 16
Cocoa Nib Chocolate Tart with Oreo Crust, with Abby Swain, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 10:30
Painting with Chocolate: Creating Edible Art, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 10:30
Royal Icing, with Toni Lynn Dickinson, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 11:00
Bûche de Noël, with Sean Considine, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 11:30
Chocolate Clay: Eat your art!, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 11:45
Holiday Pies, with Toni Lynn Dickinson, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 12:00
Chocolate Bourbon Cake, with Nick Malgieri, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 12:30
Decorating Cakes with Piping, with Toni Lynn Dickinson, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 1:00
Make Your Own Vegan/Allergy Free Chocolates, with Mona Changaris, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 1:00
Coconut and Honey Truffle Pop by Khakow, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 1:30
Valrhona Hot Chocolate Festival, with Miro Uskokovic, Eunji Lee, Thea Habjanic, Dan Keehner, Paola Marocchi, Elise Harris, Rob Valencia, Christophe Toury, Guillaume Roesz, Ikuma Motoki, Jana Kern-Mireles, Jayce Baudry, Rory Mcdonald, and Chris Elbow, 1:30
Painting with Chocolate: Creating Edible Art, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 2:00
Ruby Pastry, with Rocco Lugrine, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 2:00
Cold Brew Coffee Ganache, with Benoit Racquet, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 2:30
Chocolate Clay: Eat your art!, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 3:00
Crafting Cookies, with Jansen Chan, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 3:00
Signature Salon du Chocolat Fashion Show, with Vanessa Greeley, Ia Faraoni, Dede Ayite, Fritz Knipschildt, David Woolard, Moran Etstein, Libat Ohayon, Ashley Holt, Richard Capizzi, Marilyn & Joe Bawol, Christine Alaniz, and Corina Chase, Special Events Stage, 4:00
Almond Milk Chocolate Chunk Cookies, with Miro Uskokovic, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 5:15
Sunday, November 17
Chocolate Clay: Eat your art!, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 11:15
Boogie Woogie Books, Special Events Stage, 11:30
Ruby Bonbon, with Russ Thayer, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 11:30
Cakes from Start to Finish, with Jürgen David, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 11:45
Painting with Chocolate: Creating Edible Art, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 12:15
Savory Chocolate Winter Stew, with Matt Gennuso, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 12:30
Thanksgiving Breads, with Jürgen David, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 12:45
Make Your Own Vegan/Allergy Free Chocolates, with Mona Changaris, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 1:15
Chocolate Puddin’, with Katzie Guy-Hamilton, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 1:30
Fall Fruit Flavors, with Jansen Chan, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 1:45
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake, with Paulette Goto, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 2:30
Chocolate Clay: Eat your art!, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 2:45
Gluten-Free Baking, with Jansen Chan, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 2:45
All Types of Cakes, with Jürgen David, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 3:45
Painting with Chocolate: Creating Edible Art, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 4:00
Zero Waste Vegan Chocolate Cake & Gluten Free/Vegan Chocolate Chip Cereal Bars, with Theresa Farrell, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 4:30