Chen, who quietly opened the corner oyster and raw bar this past Friday, already has 30 east and west coast varieties on ice, as well as the difficult to source and succulent European flat oysters from France dubbed Belon. “By the end of the week we’ll have 50.” Why so many? “You need 50, otherwise you’ll be the same as everyone else.”
His refusal to do things differently and not care what people think is what made his neighboring ramen shop, Momi Ramen, an instant success which, in spite of its constant menu change and refusal to take credit cards, keeps people slurping noodles on a nightly basis. But good news: Momi Oyster takes credit cards, so you can do a different kind of slurping without having to worry about paying now.
The sliver of a space is reminiscent of a fish market one might encounter in Japan. Tiled walls are half black, half white, and ornamented with a lonely blue marlin. Seven two-tops with mismatched chairs make up half of the dining room, while the other 14 seats are at the marble counter, which gives you front row seats to the raw bar and oyster show.
We say show because their shucker Pascal (who Chen plucked from New York City) goes through 20 bivalves per minute, which comes out to an oyster shucked every three seconds. The shellfish are are impeccably clean and reek of the sea. Dress them in the house mignonette, which is spiked with sake and yuzu.
Regardless of Coast, oysters are priced at $4 a pop, and there’s no happy hour planned. “It’s not our style,” says Chen. “Our prices are high because our product is of the highest quality.” We’re pretty sure he’s referring to the crab cake, which is priced at $21 but has absolutely no filler.
The Maine lobster roll, also priced at $21, stuffs quite the generous portion of the succulent sea creature between perfectly buttered and pillow-like bread.
“We wanted to make something special for Brickell,” he says. “When I opened Momi Ramen it’s because there was nowhere I could go nearby to get good ramen. It’s the same with oyster bars. We’re evolving but nothing like what you find in New York.”
And man, do oysters require good care. Every night, they’re buried beneath a mountain of ice and put to sleep with someone from the Momi team checking in on them every two or three hours to make sure all is good in the hood. “They could die and then it’s not fresh now is it?”
But just as important are another member of the bivalve family – mussels ($15). An inescapable smurk rears Chen’s face as he plops a cast iron contraption on to the counter. “This is very traditional Momi cooking,” he says as he tosses handfuls of shuttered black sea creatures into a pool of sake and covers them. “Eight to ten minutes, and don’t touch.” A hard thing to do when an aroma of sake is emanating from the pot.
“What I really like is the mussel is not cooked all the way down,” says Chen as he opens one. The mussel flesh is tender but meaty, and the bubbling, steamy sake broth is robust enough to get a slight buzz going if you order a pot for yourself.
Alaska king crab is also available in a plethora of ways. Order it in a cocktail ($19;) as a sandwich ($21); or grilled in a lemon pepper sauce ($29). Go for the latter.
King crab is also available as a salad with mayo, celery, and avocado ($19). Other salads include caesar, seaweed, lobster, prawn, and kimchee whelk.
Also expect off-menu surprises, like this giant Japanese clam that was practically the size of my face.
Cherry stone clams will set you back $1.50 a pop.
If you don't like your oysters in a shell, get them in an omelet. The oyster scrambled omelet ($18) is just the right amount of eggy and crunchy. Other scrambled omelets include crab, lobster, Alaskan king crab, and shrimp.
For dessert, you're going to have to go elsewhere. "That's not what we're good at so we'll leave it to someone else," says Chen. "Now if you want ramen or gyoza after some oysters, you can go next door."
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