Lüke, John Besh’s informal restaurant with a vaguely Germanic or perhaps Alsatian theme, is not strictly speaking an oyster bar but it does have one. The place is located on the ground floor of a Hilton Hotel in the Central Business District, but neither disability has affected its quality. Lüke serves good, interesting food at fair prices.
The space is high, plain and airy in an appealing way but the raw bar itself might be bigger. Still, the handful of stools curve around the shucking station to promote conversation with the magicians behind the bar.
A pile of seafood at Lüke
You can tell they care about quality; it is a smallish place but offers a good selection of local craft brews and they move a lot of pristine cold shellfish; crab, lobster, fabulous Gulf shrimp of course and even urchin.
They sell a lot of oysters at Lüke, and for good reason. The shuckers care about quality too and graciously steer their clientele away from what they consider the lesser offerings on any given day. They also banter like shuckers should and work very, very fast.
This year the waters of the gulf have been hot, even for the gulf, and its normally large oysters can verge on gigantic, too big for some diners including Yankees like the Editor to enjoy raw, a fact that the shuckers at Lüke, or our shucker anyway, understood. He conscientiously warned us off them but felt bad about denying us, so offered northern oysters instead. He did, however, consider the price of the replacements unconscionable at $25 a dozen and offered them to us at the gulf price of $13 instead. They were good; ironically enough, briny umamis from Rhode Island, sold in New Orleans at a fraction of the price asked by restaurants in their state of origin.
We slipped our shucker a finn to show our appreciation and then the real fun began. A new delivery of Gulf oysters arrived. This time some dainties nestled amid the monsters and found their way via miracle and free of charge onto our platter of crushed ice, as many as we wanted. They were spectacular; plump silver dollars, at once mild and full of flavor.
A minor quibble; no mignonette. Like just about every other place in New Orleans, oysters typically appear flanked by a cups of horseradish and hot, tomato cocktail sauce that overwhelm. We did have welcome lemon wedges though, ordered another beer and happily ditched the schedule we had planned: What better compliment could an oyster bar earn?