Armed with Bil’s list of recommendations, I walked into La Mer feeling curious and confident. Immediately upon entering, I encountered a glass case full of oysters. It was guarded by a man who looked about as eager to assist me as he would a sticky-fingered toddler (my inexperience was palpable).
We nodded to each other and I glanced at the case before me. Seeing only one familiar name amongst the calcified shells, I asked the man about his oysters and the differences between them. Insouciant (or irritated, I’m not sure which), he told me that some of them were saltier than others. “You know,” he shrugged. I didn’t, and he didn’t offer much to enlighten me. With little experience to work from (my previous tastings had been uninformed and uneventful), we stood there in an awkward stare down. In the end, I went with two of Bil’s favourites (Beau Soleil and Raspberry Point), some Moonstones (they looked moon-like), and one that the fish monger had begrudgingly recommended (Fanny Bay – ultimately, Fanny Nay).
That night, I and my two dining companions sat down to shucking (slowly, incipiently) all 42 oysters. The first dozen Beau Soleil, breaded in a lightly seasoned dredge (half fine cornmeal, half all-purpose flour, s & p), were shamefully good, melting into warm, salty liquor after the initial crunch. The rest we devoured on the half shell, their consumption organized by beverage (vodka, sparkling wine) and condiment (hot sauce, lemon, and a mignonette of sweet Riesling, cider vinegar, and brunoised shallots). The gems of the evening, unsurprisingly, were Bil’s recommendations. Both the Raspberry Point and Beau Soleil were found to be plump, briny, and softly sweet, with a crisp yield to the teeth. (Purists would do well to try these two as, unadorned, they slide down the throat like muted sighs.)
Although a little overpowered by the vodka, and slightly less so by the lemon (lemon loves salt – a little too much – leaving the oyster in the corner to watch), all paired well with our Napa “champagne,” as well as the mignonette, which seemed to enhance both the flavour and texture of the oysters. Hot sauce was a bad idea, particularly when paired with the flabby, fishy taste of the Fanny Bays.
Overall we were sated, if a little fatigued, by our evening’s labour; the table was strewn with its spoils. Each shell had caused varying degrees of struggle and immense satisfaction upon conquest. As one guest put it: “The cracking of an oyster that will not be cracked … is the kind of success we all want. You’ve worked for it. It’s a relief and a celebration – although we’re not expert shuckers.” And there’s the other trouble with oysters. They are ephemeral pleasures, enjoyed for their contained perfection and exquisite brevity. Yet, if you lack the pertinent experience, there is nothing brief about opening them. A meal stretches into talk, into toasts, into hours … Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At the right time, with the right company, there is no better way to spend your effort or money.
Previously: Part One – Oyster Basics
Next: Part Three – The Art of Shucking