In most other parts of the country, the arrival of winter may conjure culinary images of hearty stews and roasted game dishes designed to fortify the body like a roaring fireplace providing warmth from within. But in New Orleans, instead of warming up over a steamy bowl of gumbo or turtle soup, locals embrace the wintry chill by slurping down ice cold raw oysters, which are at their salty, plump peak during this time of year.
While the oyster bar is a much sought after creature in this city, only about three come to mind. The two most venerable oyster bars are in the French Quarter on opposite sides of Iberville Street, and the third located Uptown keeps sporadic and minimal hours that resemble a college professor’s schedule. But the finest oyster bars are transient in nature, whether it be waiting for a train in Grand Central Station or enduring a brief delay while the waiter sets your table in the dining room. A prime example of such an institution is the oyster bar at Pascal’s Manale.
Although Manale may be known worldwide as the originator of barbecue shrimp, the anteroom of the restaurant is a classic oyster lover’s paradise. Like smoking sections and whiskey sours, dark woods and memorabilia ensconce the room in the luxury of times past. As you enter the premises, the bar is on your left and the oyster station to your right. First, make for the bar to order a drink and either a dozen or half dozen oysters per person. Then head back to the shucker and place down your marker.
Had Mary’s husband Joseph taken up oyster shucking instead of carpentry, he probably would have displayed the same speed and precision as the shuckers at Manale. One by one the half-shells hit the white bar top, where they wait for a spoonful of cocktail sauce or (in the case of true oyster aficionados) a simple squeeze of lemon and a dab of horseradish before sliding down your gullet. With every slurp, the cool, salty rush of seawater entices you for just one more.
Before you know it, 12 empty half-shells have been cast aside, and the hostess calls your party to the dining room. But in a moment of clarity, you decide to forego the protective bib for barbecue shrimp and instead order another round of beers and another dozen raw. The shucker smiles as you set down your marker once again. You have chosen wisely.Pascal Manale’s
Address: 1838 Napoleon Avenue
Hours: Mon-Thur 11:30 a.m.– 9 p.m.; Fri 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sat 5-10 p.m.