Dining Out

Owner of Ciopinot in SLO shares tips on serving oysters

Ciopinot's Leonard Cohen gives advice on how to buy, store, open and serve this alluring bivalve

Special to The TribuneOctober 3, 2013 

  • Ciopinot Seafood Grille

    1051 Nipomo St., San Luis Obispo | 547-1111 | www.ciopinotrestaurant.com

    Hours: Open nightly at 5 p.m.

    The scene: The high-ceiling brick building has a big-city feel, with the bar area flowing into a more formal dining space, also patio dining in back.

    The cuisine: Seafood dishes, especially cioppino, are the signature dishes; the full bar offers inventive cocktails, there’s a standout wine list, plus no corkage fee on first four bottles.

    Expect to spend: Entrees are $20 and up.

    Oyster Festival: centralcoastoysterfestival.com

Leonard Cohen first swam into the local restaurant scene at the Cohen family’s Olde Port Inn, which opened on Harford Pier in Avila Beach in 1971.

In 2009, Leonard and his wife, Wendy, launched Ciopinot in downtown San Luis Obispo, a stylish seafood-centric restaurant celebrating both cioppino and pinot noir.

The restaurant also serves its fair share of oysters, so with the Central Coast Oyster Festival coming Oct. 19, it seemed a good time to ask Cohen for his take on the bivalves.

Q: What is your favorite oyster that you’re currently serving?

A: Kumamotos. They are plump, sweet and have a rich butter flavor; for poaching, they expand, while other oysters shrivel up.

Q: How are you currently serving oysters?

A: We serve oysters raw on the half-shell, and both poached and baked. The poached oysters are first sautéed a bit in white wine, butter, garlic and chopped shallots, and then gently poached to doneness. The baked oysters are Blue Points made in a traditional Oysters Rockefeller presentation topped with spinach.

Q: How do these particular dishes represent your culinary style/background/philosophy?

A: Keep it simple and let the quality of the product express itself.

Q: How would home cooks approach oysters in their own kitchens?

A: There are several straightforward tips.

Buying: Purchase from a quality market, and make sure the oysters are closed — open ones usually are weak or dying. Smell them. If they smell clean or smell of ocean salt water, odds are they are happy.

Storing: It’s always best to use them as soon as possible after purchase, but ... when keeping oysters overnight or longer, remember that they are alive and if you keep them on ice or if they get too warm, they can die. They like high 40s to low 50s (degrees F), so a moist cloth around them in the refrigerator should be good for a day or so.

Serving: When you poach an oyster you don’t have to shuck it — I like that, but if you have to shuck oysters please do the following or you will end up in the emergency room!

Use an oyster shucker, NOT A KNIFE OR SCREWDRIVER. Rinse oysters before shucking, and have a towel to wrap around the oyster since the oyster shell is also sharp and can cut you. If you also have a protective glove to wear, even better.

Place the tip of the oyster shucker where the top and bottom of the oyster shell meet; there is a hinge there with a small groove. Twist to pop the hinge. If you have a problem shucking then throw them in a sauté pan and poach them a bit — they will give up at that point.

After you open the oyster, smell or taste the liquid to make sure it’s good. (I don’t use ANY that don’t have liquid.) Make sure you disconnect the oyster from the shell by gently sliding the oyster shucker under the oyster and separating it from the shell. Be sure to get any pieces of shell out of or off the oyster — when you bite into a fresh oyster, you don’t want to break a tooth or have to spit a shell out.

Q: What are your favorite oyster/wine pairings?

A: On the half-shell with a cold, flinty, French Sancerre (sauvignon blanc) and with baked Oysters Rockefeller a grassy sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, as the grassy goes great with the baked spinach topping.

Q: What is your favorite dish to cook at home and why?

A: Cioppino, because I can cook it in my sleep and know all the tricks of how to do it just right, and of course I drink pinot noir with it!

Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at ktbudge@sbcglobal.net.

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