At its annual Normandy dinner on October 16, Sea Creatures, award-winning chef Renee Erickson’s restaurant group, debuted a new oyster variety to be sold exclusively at its restaurants The Walrus and the Carpenter and Bar Melusine. Called Lil’ Moon, it’s not an entirely new breed; it belongs to the Pacific oyster species (Crassostrea gigas). In the way a grape’s terroir, its complete environment and growing conditions, is said to affect the flavor of the resulting wine, “merroir” distinguishes the many oyster varieties from just five known species, with every new location lending a unique name to oysters grown there.
Lil’ Moon, as with most oysters, has been three years in the making: It’s grown from nearly microscopic seed in Case Inlet on Reach Island in partnership with Emerald Acres, otherwise known for its Treasure Cove oysters. Owner and grower Kevin Riley told Eater he and Erickson wanted a more natural oyster, so Lil’ Moons spend at least a year free-range on the beach before harvest. This allows them to develop meat and shells that are thicker than counterparts (like Treasure Cove) produced entirely in a modern tumbler method, which keeps the creatures suspended in bags in water, where their shells end up quite deep and perfectly shaped.
The flavor of Lil’ Moon is “briny liqueur with notes of mushroom and mineral in the finish,” according to a press release, and each will cost $4. This particular oyster won’t be available at happy hour pricing. Riley said the Lil’ Moons don’t have to go to a distributor before ending up at Erickson’s bars, so they’ll be super fresh; in fact, part of the plan for the partnership is to get Erickson’s staff out to the farm sometimes to learn more about the growing and harvesting process, so they can be experts for their customers. “A lot of people in the food industry really don’t understand the amount of time it takes to grow an oyster,” Riley said.
Beyond the cool-factor of having a personal oyster variety, the partnership will also support a good cause. Lil’ Moon was the nickname of Cody Spafford, the former Walrus sous chef who struggled with addiction and was fatally shot by police after he robbed a bank in 2014. For every Lil’ Moon oyster sold, a $1 donation will be made in Spafford’s memory to The Recovery Cafe, a program “designed to help people maintain recovery, reduce relapse and fulfill their potential.”
Update, 10/18/17: Sea Creatures director of operations Jeanie Chunn confirmed that Lil’ Moons are now available at The Walrus and the Carpenter and should be on the menu at Bar Melusine soon if not already. They’ll be on the menu as long as there are ones sized appropriately for fresh eating; if at some point they get too large, they may also be served in other ways, including grilled. Emerald Acres and Sea Creatures have also ordered another 100,000 seeds to start the next batch of Lil’ Moons.