The Oyster Master: An Interview with Eventide Oyster Co.'s Co-Chef/Owner, Andrew Taylor

After graduating from Bates College with a degree in Economics it was Eventide Oyster Co. and Hugo’s co-owner and chef Andrew Taylor’s father who talked him out of law school. “You should be doing something with your hands,” he told him. “It was the validation I needed to pursue my own interests,” the now chef says. Growing up picking mussels and scavenging for wild oysters on beaches on Cape Cod, it was Taylor's passion for seafood that led him to the restaurant business and eventually into the oyster business - proof that our passions ultimately lead us to our true path in life.

In a culture where one’s alma mater is common cocktail conversation, in the restaurant business people care much less, if at all.  And that’s because the ultimate barometer of success is how the food tastes and how too the meal makes the diner feel in the end.  Taylor’s interest in cooking was discovered as a kid and developed during his college days.  Once he decided to make a career as a chef, his craft was then honed and refined in restaurants, in particular, working alongside the esteemed Ken Oringer at Clio in Boston, at Daniel’s Broiler, and the now-closed Rover’s, both in Seattle.  Working as a fish cook at Clio, Taylor muses that it was “so unique compared to what I had been doing.  Clio exposed me to so many unique ingredients.  The learning curve was super steep.  I loved working with Ken.”  

Eventide Oyster Co. was born out of the realization that there was no oyster bar that served Maine oysters.  “J’s is a wonderful place,” Taylor says of the Portland Pier restaurant, “but they don’t really feature Maine oysters.”  Eventide features oysters from both Maine and from away.  Taylor’s favorites are Winter Points, John’s River, Dodge Cove, Glidden Point, and Norumbega oysters.  The ultimate goal was for Eventide to feel like an authentic New England oyster bar in offering the base dishes – chowders, stews, lobster rolls – that are served at such institutions.  Accolades for the oyster bar have been wide ranging.  In 2013 alone, Travel + Leisure named Eventide one of the Best Oyster Bars in America and Bon Appetit named it one of the Top 50 New Restaurants.  That same year, Taylor and co-chef Mike Wiley were awarded Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Chefs award.

Taylor says that the distinguishing factor about Eventide Oyster Co. is that “we wanted to be able to take as many liberties as we could with that style.  Our culinary approach is that we are farm to table, but what really excites us is our love of international food.  One of the things we love is that the techniques are so unique compared to what we were taught.  Using the basic blueprint, we then applied our own framework using the culinary influence of international cuisine.”  Case in point being the lobster roll, which is made with fresh lobster meat blended with brown butter vinaigrette and stuffed into a homemade, Chinese-bun-inspired roll. 

The international-influenced menu includes sides such as Kim Chee and Bonito Potatoes.  Raw oyster accoutrements range from traditional Cocktail Sauce to an array of other options such as Pickled Ginger Ice, Mimosa Mignonette, and Kim Chee Ice.  Each item on the selective menu is both thoughtfully and creatively curated.  And though the New England and Asian marriage is unexpected, the ultimate outcome is a symbiotic and special union, like a pair of soul mates meeting later in life.  The chowder, however, is strictly a New England icon, a dish that Taylor has been perfecting his entire life.  “I used to dig clams on the Cape all the time and then come home and make chowder.  Eventide’s is an evolution of something I’ve been working on forever.” 

The restaurant was named for the time before dusk, when oysters are picked.  Merriam-Webster’s definition for Eventide is “the time of evening.”  For those of you who prefer to see it used in a sentence: “Eventide was their favorite time for enjoying a quiet respite in the backyard” (www.merriam-webster.com).  The resulting ambiance at Eventide Oyster Co. is a deliberate reflection of the noun, with interior walls two complementary shades of blue, natural light filtering through the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the restaurant space feeling simultaneously airy and bustling. Taylor got the idea for the oyster display - a gigantic hunk of granite - while sitting on a friend’s bench. 

Out back things are a bit more chaotic, between the shared kitchen with neighboring Hugo’s, to which Taylor says it’s “a lot of bumping elbows” between the two staffs.  “But, at the end of the day keeping everything organized and the team moving forward and positive is a wonderful challenge.”

Taylor and co-owners Arlin Smith and Michael Wiley are opening a third restaurant, a non-denominational noodle restaurant to be called The Honey Paw, in early 2015.