What I miss most from restaurants is the oyster hour. That 5 o’clock–ish spread at a bar with too-expensive-but-worth-it bites, a necessary cocktail, and an iced platter of oysters lording over the scene from a raised stand. So just about every weekend lately, I’ve been re-creating it at home.
First: those oysters. Taylor Shellfish Farms (from $60 for 30; taylorshellfishfarms.com) ships creamy Kumamotos and plump shigokus from the West Coast, while Island Creek Oysters ($85 for 24, plus shucking tools; islandcreekoysters.com) is my choice for brinier East Coast varieties. Both purveyors also offer other sea goodies; I order Island Creek’s pearly sea scallops ($30 for one pound) to make a quick ceviche to serve alongside the oysters.
Then: cocktails. While I stir an excellent boulevardier, I love stopping by Kumiko (630 W. Lake St., West Loop) to pick up sparkling Japanese juices as mixers. A highball made with the ume (plum) flavor and Old Tom gin tastes like Jack and Ginger’s way-cooler friends.
In a normal year, restaurants would scoop up all the best wholesale ingredients, but now they’re available to the masses. You can find truly special items, such as paleta (foreleg ham) from pecan-fed Ibérico pigs raised in Georgia by White Oak Pastures ($19.99 for two ounces; whiteoakpastures.com). Sweet, musky, and fatty, it sings when topped with a slice of black winter truffle from the online Italian marketplace Alma Gourmet ($84 for one ounce; almagourmet.com). Over the top? Maybe, but my newfound shucking skills keep the costs in line.