Sunday, April 29, 2007

Neptune Oyster - The People's Choice

The judges have spoken.

While there was no consensus on the winner of the first annual SND beauty contest™, Neptune Oyster was the crowd favorite. Sometimes, the underdog gets his moment in the spot light.

Neptune Oyster is a teeny place – it seats something like 25 people – in Boston’s North End (very Little Italy). A large ice table sits in the front window; a woman stands by it, shucking oysters with absurd speed and agility. Neptune serves a wide selection of oysters and clams (the roster changes daily) as well as some prepared dishes.

The oysters come with short descriptions of their flavor, as in “cucumber accents, briny...” While I found the cheat sheets really useful in remembering what or who, if you will, I was eating, I felt led by the descriptions. I read first and ate second. Instead of making up my own mind about what I was tasting, I would note to myself, “why, there are cucumber accents” or some such nonsense. Next time, I am totally not looking at the sheet.

A word or two about eating oysters: I happen to be an oyster purist - nothing but a squirt of lemon for me. I don't see the point of topping something delicate in flavor and texture with horseradish (cocktail sauce) and onions (mignonette). That's what you put on a hot dog, not an oyster. I had to put aside my strong preference for strong red wine, and go with something a little more appropriate for oysters -
I had a perfectly girly flute (or three) of Prosecco – feeling the bubbles mixing with the oyster liquor was very neat.

I liked Kumamoto oysters the best. They are very small, dark, with a creamy texture. I found them to have a rather pungent taste, even though that seems to conflict with most descriptions I have read of Kumamotos.
It is horribly cliche to say that oysters taste like the ocean, but they really do. They taste like salt and seaweed, and smell like the beach in the evening. They taste alive. That may well be because they are alive, but I will overlook that aspect of oyster consumption.

I pity all those who refuse to eat oysters simply because of what they look like. I have heard oysters described as “snot” or “fetal” (ooph, that one stuck) and I think that’s just mean. Oysters are unique in the food world. It is difficult to compare them to any other food and difficult to describe them in terms of another edible – they most certainly do not taste like chicken. All those that shun them are missing out, big time. Give them a chance, people! Don’t let your eyes dictate what your mouth gets to taste. Thinking about what you’re eating ruins the tasting experience – just taste, don’t think. That is my wisdom for the day. I shall now leave you to ponder.

Clams at Neptune - the more rubbery and compact cousin of the oyster. A squire to the oyster knight, if you will.

Gorging on bivalves - there are worse ways to spend an evening


Ben Chen said...

Even though I didn't vote, I think the right one was chosen. I LOVE raw oysters. So delicious.

JC said...

I'm an oyster cretin - I only like oysters fried. Although it's been a really long time since I have tried a raw oyster and I bet my palate has evolved. But I'm also kind of freaked out by the thought that oysters kind of serve as a filter for all the nasty junk that is in the ocean these days. And there's no way I'm eating an oyster from the Gulf of Mexico, there have been a few deaths from them around here in the last 3 years.

Anonymous said...

the father of my college boyfriend was this somewhat chauvinistic guy who fancied himself the patriarch of the family, so naturally he took credit for everything good. they would go to a beach, or climb a mountain, or drive to monterey, and he would inevitably say, "Look where I brought you!" in his strong Serbo-Croatian accent. Ever since hearing about it, I've adopted this as my own - regardless of how awesome or crummy the destination actually is. So, Anna, look where I brought you! I'm psyched that you posted about Neptune!


Anna said...

Oh that's hysterical, and so perfect.