A Salty Wave Shot To The Face
“He was a bold man who first ate an oyster” said Jonathon Swift.
No shit on that one, right? Can you imagine what that moment was like. Busting open a rock, with another rock, and then making the commitment to slurp down that briny grey, medium sized mammal liver that was probably the size of your foot. Oysters back then would have been huge. Must have been the very happiest day of that early homo sapien’s life, to plunk that briny pillow of salty loveliness into his or her mouth. I wonder how many dozens they all ate that day? Anthropologists have pinned that first oyster consumption to a cave in South Africa on Pinnacle Point around 164,000 years ago. I would have loved to have been at that private dance party.
My own first consumption of an oyster was what seems like 100,000 years ago in Chicago in 1983. I found myself bellied up to the bar at Shaw’s Crab House (the very reason Jax exists). I was underage at the time, but that was when the ramifications of such a thing were much less for both the violator and the violatee – than they are today.
I traveled with an older crew back then, hard seasoned restaurant folk who knew that city really well after dark. It is a memory of smell and taste that I will never forget. I had a lot of firsts traveling with that band of hospitality partiers in the early 80’s. Chicago’s wild restaurant scene, like any other big city at that time, was off the hook.
That first oyster I had was an east coast Blue Point – those Long Island lovelies. I had never imagined something tasting like that until that moment. It was immediately one of my favorite things to eat and is to this day. All things borne to shells from the ocean are delicious. And as a chef, the handling, stewarding, prepping and presenting of them makes it all the more exciting. We’ve brought in millions of oysters at Jax Fish House since that first dozen we cracked at Jax Boulder on opening night for Denny Agunas in November of 94’.
It’s the same thing with good ribs and fried chicken, a proper crawfish boil or a fat plate of oysters, it takes time and attention to do it right. Handling oysters is a challenge and an art and we have spent the last 25 years trying to perfect the best looking and tasting dozen you can have in America. Doesn’t matter that we aren’t near a coast. If you think of planes as boats and airports as harbors, we have the ninth busiest seaport in the world here in Denver. And we truck that deliciousness to our Jax in KC every day.
Sensing that merroir, the marine environment transfer of the French term terroir, which has long been used to explain the varying tastes of wine, olive oil, tea and cheese. Tasting a perfect oyster is a salty wave shot to the face, that delicious meat that lives in a rock influenced by tidal flow and current and mineral deposit – each shell a work of art holding a jewel.
I’ve stood in every US state with a beach and enjoyed local oysters, except Maine. And it’s not cause they don’t have really amazing oysters – I’ve just never been to Maine. But when you find those iconic oyster bars that feed that ostreaphile in you, it’s a pilgrimage to walk into their front doors.
I stood in line for 90 minutes last week waiting for a coveted stool at the Swan Oyster Depot (right) in San Francisco. This place has been doing their dance in that location since 1912. These joints where you can own a stool for just a brief moment and stop to enjoy the fruit of it all are some of my most favorite dining memories.