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best bet for oysters for an oyster virgin? (MTL)

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emerilcantcook Nov 18, 2007 01:09 PM

I have never had oysters in half shell my life. They are not a part of the culinary culture of where I am from, so I was never exposed to it during my early years. Later in my life when I moved to midwestern US, eating raw shellfish in a small town that is more than a thousand miles away from the source didn't make sense. I tired them cooked, lightly fried with a tiny sauce; I had them in poboys; but never had the courage to try them raw, in their shells.

Now that I am in a bigger city (still not close to abundant waters, but at least surrounded by a pickier foodie public), I want to experience this. My desire was triggered the other night at Pinxto, when the couple sitting on next table were slurping a dozen with extreme pleasure. We also had some pleasure due to our food, but it looked like they were having more fun. Knowing that this is not a seafood restaurant, I hesitated. Also, oysters weren't in the menu, and I was too shy to order off the menu.

I know that we are approaching the high season which increases my chances, but his is also prime "status food", something some people eat just because it is expensive. So I am also worried that I will end up with some overpriced mediocrity. I don't mind paying fair prices for my food, but I hate to pay for uber-service or uber-ambiance or uber-coolness. What are your recommendations for good and fairly priced oysters? APC? Express? Lemeac? Is Maestro good, or is it a place for women who don't eat so that they can wear low cut dresses and for buffed men with no interest in food but those women who go there? Or am I better off getting them somewhere on my own and mastering the art of shucking?

That last one sounds intimidating.

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  1. carswell RE: emerilcantcook Nov 18, 2007 01:20 PM

    Actually, provided they're properly packed and kept cool, oysters have a long shelf life. In the 19th century, they'd be packed in barrels and shipped via train to the midwest, where people kept them for weeks in their root cellars or basements.

    Many places around town serve good oysters. Joe Beef and Au Pied de Cochon are great bets, as are most of the better steakhouses. Avoid goopy, strongly flavoured sauces (even mignonette sauce is pushing it, IMO); a perfectly fresh oyster needs nothing more than a squirt of lemon juice and a grinding of pepper.

    2 Replies
    1. re: carswell
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      rcianci RE: carswell Nov 19, 2007 04:06 AM

      Joe Beef certainly has great oysters, but is Au Pied serving them at this time of year? Irritatingly, they have stopped updating their online menu.

      1. re: rcianci
        carswell RE: rcianci Nov 19, 2007 01:14 PM

        Haven't dined at the Pig's Trotter recently but would be surprised if oysters weren' on the menut. From whenever it was that the resto began offering them (early in its second year, if I recall correctly), they've been on the menu every time I've visited. And it's certainly high oyster season now.

    2. carswell RE: emerilcantcook Nov 18, 2007 01:27 PM

      Oh, and while basic shucking isn't hard (especially if you know the church key can opener trick), it's messy and the results aren't always a professional looking as in a resto. Best, I think, to lose your virginity under the supervision of a trained shucker, but if you go the DYI route, La Mer usually has the best selection of bivalves in the central city.

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        foodismyfriend RE: emerilcantcook Nov 19, 2007 05:40 AM

        In terms of selection, Maestro has the menu with the greatest variety that I have seen, but is pricey and the service is so-so. Doing it yourself when you have never tried them before is probably not a good idea--its a little tricky the first time around (or at least, it was for me, not that I am particularly handy with any kitchen utensils beyond fork and knife!). I've only been to Joe Beef once, and I didn't have the oysters but my husband did and he thought they were ok. Maybe Ferreira? Their fish is delish and always super fresh.

        1. v
          Venusia RE: emerilcantcook Nov 19, 2007 05:54 AM

          I am also curious, yet fearful. Can anyone approximately describe their taste and texture? My husband loves them, but all he ever says is: "They're just so good". And since his palate is on a completely different plane than mine, I don't trust his assessment to apply to me. I'm very timid with texture, and all I can think when he eats them is that he's downing a live squishy creature.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Venusia
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            rcianci RE: Venusia Nov 19, 2007 10:03 AM

            I can't do better than this:

            http://www.chow.com/stories/10713

          2. t
            thelonious777 RE: emerilcantcook Nov 19, 2007 05:56 AM

            I ate at Maestro earlier this year and thought it was really, really bad considering how expensive it is. The oysters may have been the only redeeming part of the experience but its not a dining experience I could recommend with a straight face. Carswell's recommendations above seem more on the money.

            1 Reply
            1. re: thelonious777
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              foodismyfriend RE: thelonious777 Nov 19, 2007 06:00 AM

              I only mention Maestro because I think they have the most variety--and the oysters are good (but yes, terribly expensive given the dining experience). I don't know anywhere else in town that has so many varieties--I hope someone will post with another oyster-bar suggestion.

            2. s
              swissfoodie RE: emerilcantcook Nov 19, 2007 08:48 AM

              I used to be just like you and then I gave myself the challenge of going for it and learning everything I could. It's up on my site. Otherwise, I hear that at Joe Beef they have a great shucker. Otherwise, I had some French oysters (Fine de Claire) this weekend which I bought at the Atwater fish store. Delicious! I squirted them with Meyer lemons...

              1. Fritzy RE: emerilcantcook Nov 19, 2007 01:08 PM

                ASZU in Old Montreal has a variety of oysters that you can order in any quantity where you can mix and match -- a good place to experiment; I think they come with three seasonings you can add yourself if I recall correctly. You can order wine by the glass so you can experiment with wine pairings too. Nice ambience if it is not too, too busy -- certainly not "uber-cool." If you are there primarily to experiment with the oysters, you can order an amuse-bouche or two and skip the mains.

                1. c
                  Chai Latte RE: emerilcantcook Nov 22, 2007 01:15 PM

                  I actually ate oysters in half shelf for the first time about two weeks ago, myself. I've eaten oysters steamed with a dash of soy sauce and a bit of green onions, I've had them deep fried, eaten them in a po boy, too. But somehow I never got around to eating them raw either. Anyway, about two weeks ago, I bit the bullet, went to my fishmonger and ordered a dozen malpeque oysters. I then visited my brother, who helped me shuck them and we ate them with a squirt of lemon and a dash of tabasco. It was really quite tasty.

                  However, if you're hestitant to DIY, I'd suggest going to Jean-Talon market, believe it or not. Down near that really good spice store, there's a little fishmonger kiosque. He sells ready to eat shucked fresh oysters for a dollar a piece. No, it doesn't give you the ambience of a fancy restaurant. However, if you're curious about the taste and don't want to spend a lot of money in case you don't like it, this is a good option, in my opinion.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Chai Latte
                    Richelle RE: Chai Latte Nov 22, 2007 02:13 PM

                    I have come to love and crave Oysters myself, had them at Le M├ęchant Boeuf and it was fun, mostly, I get them at my supermarket, take out the lime and tabasco and enjoy them and ignore the mess. I have also started chewing them a few times and it is amazingly delicious, more so then just downing them. Please take the plunge and I hope you enjoy it!

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