Of all the bivalves out there (clams, scallops and mussels, to name a few), oysters are my favorite. In general, I prefer the briny East Coast varietals but on the other hand, the sweet Kumamotos from Pacific Northwest are equally delicious (albeit in a completely different way). I’ve had Normandy oysters in Paris for 1 euro (roughly a $1.40) that freaked me out initially because they were on the large side, but ended up being one of my favorite food memories from my trip. At the Mermaid Oyster Bar (the one on McDougal Street in the East Village), I had a solitary meal at the bar that consisted of cava and a sampling of East Coast/West Coast oysters that were arranged from sweetest to most briny. At Washington’s D.C.’s very cool Union Market, I sat at the Rappahannock Oyster Co. counter and with a friend, devoured Virginia oysters that were shucked with unbelievable speed by one of the many friendly guys working behind the bar.
As I watched his hands fly through dozens of oysters with quick skill, I thought what I always think when I eat something that comes from something that looks so inedible: someone must have been very hungry to figure out there was something inside that shell (actually, there’s a scene in the opening of James Mitchner’s Chesapeake
where he describes a Native American watching a bird drop an oyster shell – or maybe a clam, the details are a bit fuzzy – repeatedly until it opened . . . so that might be yet another way our ancestors discovered new foods to eat). And I’m certainly glad someone long ago was hungry enough or curious enough to discover how delicious oysters are for consumption. As for me, I like them simple: ice-cold and raw with a mignonette or lemon or a little hot sauce for accessorizing. Add a glass of bubbly (Gruet Rosé, Lamberti Prosecco, JJ Vincent Cremant and Pol Roger Pure Brut – a zero dosage Champagne – are some of my favorite pairings) and I might have my favorite meal of all time.