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Nov 18, 2007 01:09 PM

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

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. 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

      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

        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. 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.

      1. 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. 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. 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

              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.