I can't remember the Canadian National Anthem. I'm pretty sure that it doesn't start out “O, Canada, How Are You...?”, but that's how it goes in my mind. (
Why, you might ask, am I feeling the urge to sing the praises of our Neighbors to the North? Oh, sure, there was that whole Olympics thing. The actor house did spend a good few hours watching them clog in mohawks and spout slam poetry from atop a glacier (oh, and kick ass at winter sports). We've also ravenously devoured all three seasons of the divine Canadian theatre-geek series "Slings and Arrows" in the past month (I am saving myself for Jeffrey Tennant; so what if he's fictional. And insane.) But the real gold medal for Canada, if you will, for me, came in this form:
Behold: the Raspberry Point Oyster, from Prince Edward Island (home of Anne of Green Gables! Oh its all too much)
This is one of those moments that tests my mettle as a food blogger. I make a delicious, unbelievably affordable, stylish, blogworthy food discovery and ... do I share it in this forum and risk losing, say, any chance of getting a seat at the bar ever again? Or do I simply keep my mouth shut about the HALF PRICE RAW BAR at Old Ebbitts Grill in DC after 11PM on Thursday? Damn! Well, I've never been any good at keeping secrets.
(As it happens, a local DC friend informed me tonight that it is a big ol tourist destination, so the cat was never in the bag to begin with. But for ME it was a big discovery. Read on.)
I don't care if it's touristy. I could go on and on. I remember saying that all it needed was a stage set up for me to perform and there would be pretty much everything I need in life. First off, the lighting is perfect. Almost nothing from above; all warm, amber lamplight everywhere, everyone looks gorgeous. You enter into a vast, seemingly endless labyrinth of rooms, tables, bars, antique paintings... you're immediately lost, but don't mind.The great, classic rock songs playing continuously ( a big plus for me) are at the perfect volume - loud enough to notice, soft enough to hold audible conversation about AC/DC. The snappy-dressed, striped-shirt-and-bowtie-bartenders (ask for Larry), who asked us what theatre we were from (!). And the DRINKS! Two words: pitch-perfect, ice-cold, three-olive dirty vodka martini (ok, I had more than one). The ruby-violet pomegranate martini ordered by my companions: also no slouch. The bold, built-for-two, gorgeous desserts like peanut butter pie and pear crumble.
And, bien sur:
“#3 Walrus Platter”
Clockwise in a spiral: Raspberry Point and Saint-Simon oysters, clams, fat shrimp cocktail, cocktail sauce with horseradish, vinegar and lemon wedge, oyster crackers. Cost during Half Price? $21.
I shared the above with the SM, but I watched Orestes go it alone. Thinking about the relative absence of usual demons - fat, calories, chemical additives - I asked, “What does happen to you if you eat too many raw oysters?Anything?” He looked at me over the cocktail sauce, shell in hand, and said, “You have an orgasm.”
Now, for the uninitiated: I do not consider myself an oyster expert. I'm not going to be able to cover all the history, traditions, etiquette, and superstition in this blog post, and I wouldn't try. I'm not equipped, and there are plenty of other places you can read that stuff. I'm also not going to necessarily try to describe the experience. There are some things, like, oh, say, sex, or whiffleball, that are simply ineffable. When you have not yet been through it yourself, the practice seems bizarre and perhaps even revolting, but ...
I seriously have been trying for 20 minutes to insert a decent "shucking" joke in here, and now I have to get to the matinee. Please feel free to submit your own.
I will say this, for your consideration: Oysters 'respond to irritation' by producing pearls. (Oh, if we all did so!) Their gender is indistinguishable from the outside, and they can change their sex one or more times during their life. And, considering the Oyster Shooter, can be consumed as either a snack or a cocktail. O, sweet mystery of life....!
And, if and when you decide you're ready, allow me to give a few guidelines.
Dress for the occasion. Heels, maybe. Definitely jewelry. It IS a performance. A dance, if you will. Not just a snack. I'm telling you this not to intimidate you but to get the idea across that it's a gorgeous, privileged, activity performed for yourself, not an audience, if that makes sense. All of the hoo-hah contributes to the taste sensation. Really.
Eat dinner beforehand. I know it sounds counter intuitive, and I'm not suggesting you go stuffed and completely anti-food, but oysters should not be eaten for the wrong reason (ie, out of something as base and coarse as hunger.) They are subtle creatures, and , yes, small. If you're starving, you'll scarf them down and miss the whole point. They're also not that filling, and god knows how many you'll have to eat to feel full (and I refer you to the potentially embarrassing result of overindulgence suggested above).
Take the tiny adorable silver fork in hand, and the beautiful scalloped shell in the other. Savor the sensation that you are, oh, Brooke Astor, or Marie Antoinette, for a moment. Sit up straight in your imaginary corset (holding a full martini glass is good practice for this) so as not to spill any of the oyster “liquor” . Spear the slippery little thing on the fork, dip it into the vinegar and get it back in the shell. Dont panic if you drop it in, but get it back for the love of god. Give the cocktail sauce & horseradish a good stir to mix them up and place a small drop (to taste) atop your oyster. Put the shell to your lips, tilt your head back. Slurp. ...
-I will head off the “chew or swallow whole” debate here by saying I keep my teeth out of it but I do somewhat crush the bivalve against my upper palate with my tongue on the way down to maximize the experience-
...And it's as if the whole ocean suddenly lives at the back of your throat. Mermaids are singing. Aphrodite lifting you into her seashell, rising on the foam. Brine, salt, lemon, horseradish. Mm.
I'll miss you, DC. Next stop: Red Bank NJ. Do you think they have oysters there?
*with apologies to much-mocked anchorman Ernie Anastos and to anyone here who hasn't seen this clip and thought this post would be about chicken.