Happy Go Shucky — Adventures in Oyster Tasting

I live in a city whose biggest tourist attraction is known for literally throwing fish at you and hoping you catch it. We’re a seafood city. After spending most of my life in landlocked states, I vowed after moving to Seattle that I would take full advantage of coastal living—indulging in pricy seafood dinners, the freshest sushi, shrimp on my pasta and becoming an “oyster person”.

The first time I was introduced to oysters was when I was like 8. I remember seeing an episode of Rugrats where the parents, Stu and Didi, went to a fancy resort and ordered a round of oysters for the table to enjoy by the pool. From that moment on I considered oysters a member of the upper echelon of food alongside French dishes like caviar and escargot. The hors d’oeuvres of the elite.

With summer arriving in the Pacific Northwest the happy hours are abundant and the oyster specials ubiquitous. After three years of acclimating to the west coast, I think I’m finally ready to claim my seat at the shuckers table.

To prepare for my new role I did about an hour’s worth of haphazard googling, enough to make me think I was informed about oyster tasting etiquette, and then hastily made a plan to stop into an oyster bar today after work. Here’s how that went:

First impressions
Walking into an oyster bar is intimidating when you don’t know anything about oysters. I had my pick of tables, but obviously this already self conscious occasion was begging for a seat at a table in the middle of an otherwise empty dining room, in the direct line of site of the entire restaurant staff.  I’ve gotta admit, I was expecting it to smell more like the aquatic section of a PetSmart in there, but it sure didn’t. As I started to get used to my surroundings I noticed that I also happened to have chosen the seat that sat right next to, what seemed like, a living seafood spa in the center of the restaurant. It was piled high with a variety of shellfish, including the oh-so-phallic geoducks (pronounced: gooey•ducks). The crabs were staring at me and I cared too much.

My server placed a menu on the table and I immediately (and abruptly) identified myself as a newbie, blurting out, “I’VE NEVER HAD OYSTERS BEFORE,” like I was telling her I was experiencing a medical emergency.  After getting over the shock of my exclamation she guided me through the menu. Most of the oyster’s names sounded like Fast and the Furious characters to me (Grand Cru, Fanny Bay, etc). We chose three to start with and  a wine that would pair well with my salty snacks.

I surveyed what was left on the table in front of me: two forks. One normal sized and one miniature. I don’t know about you, but even in a normal restaurant setting irregular cutlery is always a catalyst for my anxiety. How would I ever use both forks? I pictured Ariel running the dinglehopper through her hair. Before I had time to act on this impulse, the server set down my glass of Muscadet. I raised the glass, gave it an ultra-confident swirl and took a big sip. It tasted clean and minerally. My confidence began to return and I braced myself for what would come to the table next.

Oyster 1 — Kumamoto

The six oysters were fanned out over crushed ice in front of me. In the middle was a lemon wedge and a ramekin filled with a dressing called champagne mignonette.

“Try the oysters on their own first,” she advised, “and then if you add seasoning be careful not to overwhelm the flavor of the oyster.”

She left me alone with the aliens on my plate. I started to feel a pang of regret for ordering six of them (2 of each), but I’m no quitter (especially when I’m being watched by a kitchen staff).  I picked one up and, without thinking, tried to cooly toss it back like I read about on some blog. The meat in shell the wasn’t loose enough, so I got a mouth full of sea water. After loosening the gooey mass with a spoon I tried again and it slid right into my mouth.

“Holy shit it’s so slippery,” I thought. It tasted like I tripped and fell into the ocean with my mouth open, but it also tasted sweet. I didn’t hate it. The coloring of the shell reminded me of the camouflage clothing people deck themselves out for a night out in Arkansas.

I squeezed a drop of lemon on the second one and I loved it.

Oyster 2 — Kusshi

The Kusshis tasted less sweet and more like I was sipping on an ocean water cocktail. They were astringent and made my tongue feel dry. After three oysters I’d started to gain a little confidence back, but still felt self conscious being isolated in the middle of the room.

Between my third and fourth bites I had an enlightening conversation with the server about developing a palette for tasting oysters, so I decided to work harder at identifying flavors outside of ocean and salt. I put the fourth one in my mouth and slowly chewed. Suddenly I tasted…weird, wet mushroom?? Maybe I went a little aggressive on the lemon squeeze. How was I supposed to use the condiments?

I noticed the wine was starting to taste different—more mineral forward. Like a wet sea rock. Maybe I was becoming a barnacle.

Oyster 3 — Fanny Bay

“SHIT these are big,” I thought as I picked up the first Fanny Bay oyster.  Their shells looked the most prehistoric. I decided that the slimy part of the oysters kind of look like rotting human ears to me, which is a bad comparison to make before you eat something. You know the dreadful feeling you get right before you take a big pill? That’s how I felt looking into this oyster.

I tossed it back.

I really chewed on this one. It tasted brighter than the others. I think. While I was trying to pay attention the meroir of the one in my mouth, I knocked my last oyster out of it’s shell, off my plate, and onto my phone’s screen. As I’m sure you have no problem imagining, I panicked and then surreptitiously attempted to slide the wet, slippery blob back into its shell. HORRIFYING. That’s when I noticed there were barnacles still on the shell. She’s fresh!

Rather than using the lemon on my second Fanny Bay, I decided to go with the champagne mignonette instead. Immediately I realized this was a choice I should have made from the beginning.  It was delicious. The acidity of the vinegar really toned down the weird after taste that the oysters left in my mouth. I want to stay that it also amplified the other flavors, but if I’m being honest I was still only tasting salt. By this point I had come to terms with the fact that my oyster-tasting palette would not be developed by the end of my first visit. The wine tasted its best after the second Fanny Bay. They were my favorite.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

This is where I thought the oyster adventure was going to end, but then I ordered two more because I was halfway through my glass of wine and I really wanted to challenge myself. It’d been thirty minutes and my nerves were lower so SURELY I’d be able to taste my final two more comprehensively.

By this point several more tables had been seated around me in the restaurant, and all of the people sitting at them seemed a lot more fancy and bourgeois than me. The seawater that was puddled in front of me on the table was like a small, salty puddle of shame.

Oyster 4 — Pacific (from Fanny Bay)

The last two oysters came and I felt less intimidated than I did earlier. With the flair of an aficionado I raised the shell to my my mouth, preparing to tip the next one in. Back, back, back my head went until the shell was completely vertical and my elbow was pointed towards the ceiling. I’d tried to shoot it the wrong way out of the shell. My eyes were wide and my cheeks were pink with self-inflicted embarrassment. Sea water dribbled down my chin.

As I chewed the gummy Pacific oyster I felt the makings of a (skeptical) Eureka moment, “Did that taste tomato-y, or did I make that up?”

Maybe it was just the viscosity.  The shell was super beautiful. Like a very exaggerated ruffled Lays potato chip.

Oyster 5 — Shigoku

The last oyster was definitely briny, but also tasted kind of like a green bell pepper. Maybe my palette wasn’t a lost cause after all.  After I finished, my lips were burning from all of the salt I’d put past them. I could confidently say the last oysters were my favorites. I knew I’d never never ever doubt the power of champagne mignonette again.

Final impression

While I may never have a reserved seat at the shuckers table, I’ll definitely pay a visit to the oyster bar again. I don’t think they’re my favorite food, but I’m curious to learn more about the nuances of their flavors. People liken the methods of tasting oysters to that of tasting wine, and I can definitely see what they mean. The taste is ever changing and will always surprise you. I look forward to seeing what I taste on my next visit.

And, no, I never used the tiny fork.

UPCOMING: Holiday Giving Guides for the Hungry People in Your Life

When I was in high school, scouting out unique holiday gifts was one of my specialties. I could cross the threshold of Target’s big red doors with a mission in mind and be back out in 10 minutes flat, arms full of thoughtful randomities sure to make someone in my friend group (or my mom) shimmy with excitement.

As I’ve gotten older (and more aware of expectation and whose taste is what) it turns out that gift hunting has lost a little bit of it’s sparkle. It’s not quite the exciting quest that it used to be, in fact, I think we can all agree that sometimes it can get a little frustrating. There have been desperate moments when I’ve walked into, what I’ve deemed is, the last store of my sad attempt to find a gift for someone and have picked something up, sighed as I settled on something mediocre, and felt guilty that I didn’t start shopping in September like I meant to.

And let me tell you something else, there’s truly nothing like quickly, softly whispering, “There’s a gift receipt in there if you don’t like it,” to really get someone excited for what awaits them in your haphazardly wrapped package. My favorite part is the hyperbolized excitement they show afterwards to prove how stoked they are for the thing you have ~blessed them~ with.

For those of you also feeling overwhelmed, clueless, like you’re blindly combing the shelves at the Very Posh Store That You’ve Always Meant to Go Into for the perfect something…these upcoming seasonal gift guides are for you. Of course, it’d be worth mentioning that these are for the people who hold my same interests near and dear to their hearts. Those interests, of course, are the consumable kind: food, cocktails, coffee, restaurants, cooking, recipes, kitchen supplies (ok, less consumable), etc. I’ll be listing them all!

Another thing that’s happened since I’ve gotten older is that I’d rather receive an experience, like an outing or a trip, than a thing (unless that thing is a mandolin slicer because SHE is currently burning a hole in my Amazon wishlist). That means I will not only be sharing my ideas for things you can buy for someone, but also things that you can do together.

The holidays shouldn’t be all about gifts, but I hope the ones you do give are received graciously and produce imminent hunger pangs.

Be on the look out for the first one next week!

PS: Throughout the holidays I’ll be posting some of my recommendations for where to eat and drink around The Emerald City as well. Stay tuned!

Some Like it Hot | Saturday Morning

hotchoco6hotchoco1hotchoco4hotchoco3hotchoco2

The weather in Seattle this weekend is forecasted to be rainy with an 85% chance of everyone forgetting what being warm feels like. That being said, I have been craving hot drinks: eggnog (a festive favorite), pour-overs (sue me), mulled wine (for those of us who like to get warm in more ways than one) and, of course, hot chocolate.

Here’s some hot chocolate recipes that I’m dying to try this season:

  • This Lavender hot chocolate
  • Eggnog hot chocolate found here
  • And perhaps one of these two mint hot chocolates; they both looked too good for me to choose just one.

Am I forgetting anything? What are you craving?

Speak to you soon!

x

photo credit for title image here

Paleo Poser | Lifestyle Post

bakedeggsI want to start out this post by giving a shout to to anyone who has ever completed a successful Whole30 or Paleo diet program because that shit is hard stick to. Seriously, congratulations, I don’t know how you successfully said no to pancakes at breakfast (I don’t want to hear about your special flours right now) or how you decided you didn’t need french fries at 2AM after that halloween party with all the jello shots, but you did it. Kudos. Mazel tov. And I…didn’t.

I should preface by saying that, although I’ve adopted some Whole30 and Paleo principles to my life recenlty, I never really fully committed to one of the newest crazes. I left myself the salvation of brunch, occasional emergency burritos (gluten/dairy free of course) and the “I deserve this” chocolate chip cookie to interrupt a stressful day. I have, however, introduced a whole slew of new vegetables and fruits into my diet as well as cutting out most dairy, gluten and sugar (don’t revisit the aforementioned cookie right now.) I’m eating more meat than usual to get my protein fix and backing that up with an hour of working out every other day. I definitely do feel better and can tell the difference in my mood and overall being when I interrupt my healthy flow, so I think I’m going to keep this thing up.

As I write this, I’m sitting here (petrified that my old, tiny oven in my ancient studio apartment is probably going to catch my dutch oven on fire) deeply inhaling the aromas of apple porkchops wafting through my apartment so I thought I’d list out a few of my favorite Clean/paleo/whole30 substitutes and recipes from the past couple of weeks:

Breakfast– Last weekend one of my favorite new Seattle friends and I decided to make brunch instead of going out like we normally do on Sundays. We made these baked eggs , brought to us by Minimalist Baker and they were to diiiiie for. Another breakfast option I’ve been loving is a bowl with strawberries and walnuts topped with a splash of hemp/coconut milk. The Tempt brand has an unsweetened one that is everything to me.*

Lunch//Dinner – Pasta is such a quick easy meal when you’re eating like a normal human, but turns out wheat pastas/noodles aren’t as good for you as vegetables. One of my favorite pasta alternatives so far has been zucchini pasta. This recipe calls for fresh cranberries and pinenuts (how festive for fall, right?) but on my second batch I subbed for blueberries and slivered almonds and it was AWESOME. Highly recommend. The pork chops that are currently flooding my apartment with savory aromas and audible stomach growling symphonies can be found here.

*I know that with most of these programs you’re supposed to make your own milks/not have any at all but let me live a little, ya’ll. I’m new at this
**I’m not a dietician or really even good at dieting so take everything I just said with a grain of salt (but not too much or you’ll bloat, AMIRIGHT?)

Eating healthy doesn’t suck.  Pro tip: You probably will get sick less this cold season if you just give it a little extra effort. Sleep, Water, Excercise, Healthy diet. Do yourself a favor and feel better.