Oysters are a bivalve mollusk that are so visually unappetizing, on first glance one must ask “why on earth would anyone want to eat THAT?” The outside shell is typically dingy, rough and rock hard; and once opened, the oyster it’s self looks like a giant, slimy glob, of greyish phlegm. Sounds MmmmmMmmm tasty! Right? Well actually, that is right! Done well, whether cooked or raw (my personal preference) oysters are, quite delicious. In this bigger is better world, my personal opinion when it comes to oysters is, smaller varieties like Beausoleils or Kumomotos are definitely better. But another variety I like, are Pacific Gold Oysters, locally farmed, and cultivated by the Morro Bay Oyster Company right here on the Central Coast. Pacific Golds range from small to about medium-sized and are quite yummy with a fresh ocean brininess and a melon rind finish that when topped with anything from a mignonette to lemon and /or cocktail sauce highlight the natural flavors beautifully. And right here on the Central Coast to celebrate our wonderful oysters, we had the 2nd Annual Morro Bay Oyster and Music Festival which has already been named #4 of the top 10 Oyster Festivals in the Country!
The Morro Bay Oyster Festival is held at the beautiful Morro Bay Golf course and is set up very well, with art installations and a large stage for the musical performances. You had the opportunity to park on site for $25, $50 for valet parking or you could park about 3 miles a way at Morro Rock and take the free shuttle (which is what we did). The cost to get into the festival was $25 – $32 depending on whether you got them in advance or at the gate. Last year according to the website there were about 4000 people at this event but there was not near that many this year. My guess is that cost might have been a factor. Between parking at the venue and the tickets you were already looking at minimally about $50 per person and you hadn’t even entered the venue yet. Then once you entered you had to pay to taste any wine, food or beer. I’m guessing the entry ticket prices were for the music part, but for those of us who were strictly there for the oysters, wine and beer, things added up really fast.
The oyster dishes ranged from $2-$20 (about); and even though there were several wineries represented who each brought 3-4 different bottles of wine to taste, you had to pay $10 to buy your glass and $2 per ticket for one 1.5-2oz taste of one wine. Meaning, your purchase of the glass got you only the glass, and you had to pick your winery and either spend several of your tickets to taste all their wines or pick various wineries and only taste one or two wines per ticket at each place. With regard to the beers which were offered by Tapit Brewing or SLOBrewing Co. the $10 purchase price of beer included the glass and a pint, and then it was $6 refills for the rest of the day.
So once those of us on a budget got past the cost issue and planned out where our money would best be spent, and when, the event it’s self was really enjoyable. As I mentioned the venue was lovely, the weather was on the cool side especially since I wore shorts, whoops! 🙂 The set up was very participant friendly with the musical stage at one end and the oyster shucking stage at the other. In between, the food booths were set up and off to the side was the wine garden where the wineries were set up. Many of the booths were from restaurants we really enjoy and have seen at other festivals. For those people who were adverse to oysters they had some booths offering other types of food.
The Gardens at Avila with Chef Robert for example was offering fresh short rib tacos (which were RIDICULOUS!) with Sycamore Garden Salsa, Queso fresco, and Windrose apples and Lido was offering a shrimp based dish by Maegan Loring who was also acting as a judge for the oyster dish competition. We tasted several dishes; things like Truffled Oyster Brugee by Giancarlos Restaurant , Oyster Ceviche served in an oyster shell and a clam chowder Bouillane style, which is more broth like, than creamy, by Windows on the Water, and The Oysters Escabeche from Luna Red.
We also made sure to taste the winners of the Oyster dish competition, which we got the inside scoop on by one of the judges who said Thomas Hill Organics’ Fried Oyster Bahn Mi Sandwich was the top choice, before they announced the winner. Happily our opinion was inline with the people’s choice winner, Inn at Morro Bay’s Oyster on the 1/2 shell with red wine mignonette, house made cocktail sauce, topped with a citrus infused fig, and crispy shallot which was OMG delicious!!! We’ve seen Inn at Morro Bay at couple festivals and each time I’ve been impressed with their offerings, so we are going to have to schedule dinner and an overnight there one of these days.
There was also an oyster shucking contest for both amateurs and professionals but we missed it because we were in the wine garden doing one of my favorite things…wine tasting of course! LOL Since I wanted to taste several wineries’ wines I decided to just taste the recommended one from each winery. By the time we got to the wine garden they had run out of wine glasses and were offering plastic cups. Me being the wine glass “snob” I am LOL, I was not enthusiastic to taste out of plastic, it can really change the characteristics and the way a wine tastes. If you are drinking wine at a social function just to drink and enjoy the all around experience, a plastic solo cup is totally fine. But if you are tasting wine, especially if you are paying to taste wine, plastic is definitely not the way to go.
Fortunately earlier in the day, we’d purchased a pint glass of Tapit’s Full Blown Stout. An oatmeal style stout, black in color, with rich roasted aromas and a slightly acidic well-rounded mouth feel; so since we had the glass I used that. Since we were purchasing tickets I had to parse out which wines at which wineries I wanted to try. I decided my best bet was to go to the wineries I was least familiar with and try one wine from each. I started with Rob Murray Vineyards Force of Nature 2012 Pinot Gris. Aged in steel tanks for 10 months, it’s a 100% Pinot Gris from the Murmur Vineyard, a hint from the winery…you can decant this for up to 2 hours and can age it for 2-3 years. I made my way over to Venteaux Vineyards and tasted their 2010 Mourvedre Rose which is made of 100% Mourvedre and had a nice strawberry and watermelon like nose and a clean finish and acidity. Bodegas M was serving their 2011 Albarino – Querida Albarino is a Spanish grape varietal and theirs was complex and creamy; mostly because it spends 8 months in one year old and two year old French oak, which imparts that butteriness usually associated with Chardonnays.
I tried the Cypher 2011 Pistil Rose with Strawberry and watermelon notes with more Strawberry, a hint of cherry, and a bright mouth feel. Lastly it was ALLL about the Castoro Cellars Bubbly which I ran out with and instantly got oysters to go with it. The Castoro Brut Champenoise is 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and made in the Méthode Champenoise. It won the Double Gold at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and was the perfect compliment to go with the oysters at the festival.
So what were my take aways from the Central Coast Oyster Festival, you may be asking? Well first it’s a great event in a beautiful location with all sorts of fantastic oyster tasting opportunities. The biggest downside was the expense. I heard several times from various people that it would have been better if there was one up front ticket fee, say like $100 or something, that allowed them tastes of everything without constantly having to pull out their wallets or miss out on something they wanted because of cost. Though the music was nice in the background to the event, it was the oysters that were the center piece for the people we spoke to.
Most of the festivals like Sunset Savor, Bacon and Barrels, or Forks and Corks actually do the one price for all format; and most of the food and wine participants have been involved in those types of festivals and are just as happy to do it that way. From some of the grumblings I heard, I think it was most difficult on the wineries; since they just want people to taste all their wines instead of having to be limited to picking and choosing. If the festival maintains their present format, my suggestion if you want to go is, save your pennies so you can experience and get a real feel for the entire event.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Great upcoming events: Remnants of the Past | Antique and Vintage Show November 9-10, 2013; For The People Comedy tour November 22, 2013; SLO Bacon Festival – 11/23/2013 – 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm; Yuletide at the Tide December 7, 2013