Hey, all. Had a link to this up earlier, but here's the full post:
On Saturday I attended an oyster tasting at the Legal Seafoods in Harvard Square. Though I believe in paying the real cost of food, which Americans usually don't, the $35 price tag did make me hesitate, since that amount could put me in real food for several days. Also, great Wellfleets on the halfshell are available at the Davis Square Farmer's Market on Wednesdays for only a buck. With these two thoughts in mind, my companions and I decided that to make it worth it, we needed to eat at least an oyster per every dollar spent. In the end we each put down about 40.
After the first ten or so I didn't think I could do it. After two glasses of wine, I did.
Initially the space was way too crowded and the anxiety about making sure you got your fill was palpable. People were finicky about their place in line and there was a fair amount of bumping and jostling for a crowd who looked like the wealthy dupes of Marx Brothers movies.
Besides oysters, you could also have... nothing. Though the oysters were served raw, fried, pickled, baked and stewed, there wasn't a crumb, an oyster cracker even, to be had besides the oysters themselves, which I thought was a little shoddy of Legal. At least put out some bread, and then we'd eat fewer oysters anyway. Neither was wine included in the tab, though I was certainly led to think it would be by the wording of their promo. The folks at Boston.com seem to have had the same impression, having included the following in their listing for the event:
"you will be given wine sips to complement the oyster dishes."
I don't know about you, but if you come to my house for dinner, and I "give" you something, you don't have to pay $7.50.
Between that and being asked to fork over gratuity upon entering, one didn't get the impression that one was being graciously hosted. A not too cheap feeding frenzy it was, a pleasing dining experience it was not. When the shucking demonstrator asked for everyone's attention and spoke extempore about the high quality of Legal's oysters, taking pains to highlight their safety, I suddenly felt as though we'd been tricked into paying for their marketing.
Still you did get a complimentary oyster survival kit, which is really the opposite if you look at it from the oyster's perspective. It contained a DVD on how to shuck (don't need it), a small bottle of Tabasco (don't use it), one of those disposable wooden oyster forks (completely unnecessary), and a moist towelette (would rather have oyster juice on my hands than ethyl alcohol, propylene glycol, USP, benzalkonium chloride, fragrance, polyoxethylene nonphenol, PEG 75, lanolin, and sodium bicarbonate.)
That said, you really could eat all the oysters you wanted, or more. As I grabbed one last Maine pemaquid on my way out, my stomach sloshing with the very recently killed bodies of over three dozen bivalves, the busboys waved the tops of their hands at at me as if to say "take, take!"
The staff was friendly, light footed and informative, though not always correct. One staff member said that the small, ovular lumps on the shells were "barnacles," though I've been told by the oyster farmer at the Davis Market that they are in fact baby oysters. (He asks that you refrigerate your shells and return them to him the following week so that he can use them to re-seed his beds.) As if it wasn't already apparent, this event showed the massive disconnect between food production and consumption, even by the folks at Legal, who purport to know their stuff, though by their sheer volume they drain the ocean of life at an alarming rate per day.
But there's no way that I can pretend that I didn't love eating 40 oysters. There is nothing to help you better understand a food than obsessive indulgence, and I don't think I'd eaten a luxury item in this quantity since the age of fourteen, when my next door neighbor and I each ate 9 grapefruits from the tree in my yard. My lips burned, but I've deeply understood grapefruit ever since. I also have to report that afterwards we all felt a clear sense of euphoria, one not unlike my recent sichuan peppercorn high. Maybe that's the infamous aphrodisiac effect, though all it made me want to do was nap.
And no matter how you look at it, if I pass up buying an oyster the next 40 times, in the end I'll have saved money.