Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Consider the...Oyster

Nothing in reference to M.F.K. Fisher, like this blog for example, would be complete without tribute to her wonderful essay and book by the same name, Consider the Oyster. I have a mind to do regular posts in the "Consider the..." vein on particular foods that catch my fancy, and will kick off the series with my own take on The Oyster.

Oysters are a peculiar food as well as animal. I agree whole-heatedly with Fisher's assertion that the humble oyster is one of the most put-upon creatures on this Earth. This little bivalve is pounced upon by both man and others in nature for its delicious flesh and, for what can only be considered under the circumstances, its tears, otherwise known as pearls.

The oyster shifts sex constantly, an ironic twist by mother nature, considering the fact that oysters are potent aphrodisiacs and pearls in our society certainly have a romance associated with them as well.

My own experience with oysters have been, regrettably, rather limited. I happen to dislike clams and mussels, and so avoided their mollusk cousin for some time. Yet rumors of their magical flavor and insistence by other devotees convinced me, and by the time I arrived in New York, the only thing that truly prohibited me from partaking of them with any regularity was price, as finding quality oysters on an invisible publishing salary is tricky, to say the least.

Then I got lucky. I was invited out to lunch by an extraordinary new friend, who is a fellow Princetonian and literary giant, and who has been editor-in-chief of one of the most prestigious publishing houses in the world for quite some time. He is, fittingly, a member of the Century Club, an incredible place where artists still have patrons and everybody wears a hat. And it was at the Century Club where I think my first New York true oyster experience played out.

After my companion had our waiter tube our drink orders down to the bar (yes, they still tube messages and drink orders at the Century Club), he insisted that I order oysters, for which the Century Club is well-regarded. Out they came, three different kinds (Belon, Blue Point and Ostrea) beautifully displayed on the half-shell. I prefer mine with only a bit lemon, but he definitely favored more sauce. Ordinarily, I would shy away from such a hard to eat food with someone of his stature, but I am glad my stomach overruled my sense of decorum, as the oysters were divine, matched only by the merit of my companions otherworldly stories, from his travels in Croatia to literary gossip and our latest acquisitions.

It might be difficult to get to these oysters at the Century Club without being acquainted with a member, who are few and far between, so if you find one, it is time to make a new friend! Dining there is an experience, and if you're lucky, maybe they'll treat you to some scotch or post-dinner cordial in the Club's amazing library.

That said, there are plenty of other great places in New York to enjoy oysters. Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar is new, and while I have yet to have the privilege of going, I've read great things. The Oyster Bar in Grand Central is fun and scene-y and they prepare them a variety of ways in case eating them raw does not appeal to you. (My boyfriend says their texture when raw kills it for him...). I think Aquagrill is just great fun in general--great seafood across the board, and on top of the raw bar, you can actually watch the guy manning it go to town shucking away for the night's orders.

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