Shell of the Ball

Oysters recapture chefs' hearts

Oysters have come full circle. They've served as ancient Rome's ingredient of the epicure, the sustenance of the working class and a rumored aphrodisiac.

So although chefs' fondness for the briny bivalves is nothing new, the relationship has been newly reinvigorated: A handful of new restaurants have devoted themselves to the muscle inside the gnarled shells. Move over gastropub, this is the year of the oyster bar:

Hog & Rocks, San Francisco As its name suggests, Scott Youkilis's new restaurant hinges on two culinary all-stars: ham and oysters. His collection of the latter showcases finds from both coasts in the United States and New Zealand, which he offers with a simple mignonette and a wedge of lemon or lime, depending on the variety. "Certain West Coast oysters love lime juice, but East Coast oysters taste like crap with it," he says. Recommended oyster: crisp and minerally Imperial Eagle, British Columbia

Jeffrey's Grocery, Luncheonette & Oyster Bar, New York Barely a year after opening his dapper neighborhood joint, Joseph Leonard, restaurateur Gabriel Stulman has expanded with this market-cum-restaurant across the street. Chef Eric Milley oversees a menu of simple comforts like roast chicken and braised brisket, but we're content to make a meal out of the cheese, charcuterie–and, of course, oyster offerings. Recommended oyster: briny, barely acidic Beausoleil, New Brunswick

The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle Former Boat Street Café chef Renee Erickson has made a new name for herself as oyster curator and chef–focusing on the local shellfish of the Pacific Northwest–at this handsome spot in Seattle's Kolstrand building. In addition to serving the oysters on ice with a Champagne mignonette, she peddles them fried with cilantro aioli or folded into a gratin. Recommended oyster: bright and savory Treasure Cove Pacific, Washington

Island Creek Oyster Bar, Boston We were elated to learn that Island Creek oyster farmer Skip Bennett teamed up with chef Jeremy Sewall (of Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks fame) to open this spot, which will debut later this month. The menu will include a rotation of 12 to 18 oysters on the half shell, plus cooked options like oyster sliders and monkfish schnitzel. Recommended oyster: the highly salty namesake Island Creek, Duxbury Bay, MA