Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Date with the Best Oysters in Portland

"A raw oyster was not designed for our pleasure. Appreciating it is more like catching a glimpse of a fox in the woods: The experience lasts only a moment but leaves us in a fleeting state of grace. Oysters are not easy or obvious, but few foods so exquisitely balance sweet, salty, savory, and mineral. Few foods so reward our efforts."
From 'A Geography of Oysters' by Rowan Jacobsen

We don't do date nights very often. We tend to go out with friends, or stop at the pub on the weekend for a beer. And I know, you parents of little kids are saying, "Oh, my God, you are so lucky!" And so we are. Our "kid" is 23 and all grown up, and waves us out the door when we leave. He can even feed the pets if need be.

So when we heard a story about slurping raw oysters on NPR last week, we were compelled to make a date to eat some of those briny delicacies. Having slurped our way through various oyster spots around town, our favorite (and the best deal we've found) is in the little pocket bar at Dan and Louis Oyster Bar down by the river. For just under $19 you can get a dozen of the freshest, liveliest little bivalves imaginable. Then, when we got there, we found that we'd just missed their happy hour, where from Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 pm you can get a dozen of three kinds of selected oysters for only $9.95. $9.95 for some of the best oysters in the country? Now that's what a happy hour should be about!

But, since we'd missed that crazy deal by an hour or so, our first dozen was the sampler, a selection of the day's offerings. Clockwise from top left are three each of Gigamoto, Kumamoto, Quilcene and Netarts. The Gigamotos are the smallest, with shells only about 1 1/2" long, with the tiniest oyster I'd ever seen inside. It takes nearly five years for them to reach even this diminutive size, and they have a delicate and slightly sweet taste with a salty tinge. The Kumamotos are long-time favorites, with their tiny size, meaty texture and salty goodness. The Quilcenes were good, but weren't as flavorful as the Netarts which, despite their larger size (only about an inch-and-a-half long) were light and had a fresh, wonderful ocean-y taste.

And, as any Northwest oyster lover knows, the delicate, fresh-from-the-sea flavor of our oysters don't need to be covered up with no stinkin' cocktail sauce, and even lemon overwhelms their loveliness. So, at least in our case, condiments are to be eschewed at all times.

Our choice for a beverage to accompany raw oysters is, ideally, a dry gin martini with olives. If you must have beer, while we are all about drinking super-hoppy IPAs with a burger and fries, a nice Mirror Pond Pale Ale is a much better choice in this instance. Which, come to think of it, is one reason we didn't go to Dan and Louis for so many years. Believe it or not, they actually didn't serve alcohol until just a few years ago, hard to believe when oysters and a beer are practically a requirement elsewhere.

Oh, in case you're wondering, the second dozen was six each of the Kumamotos and Netarts. We would have gone for a third dozen (these things go downlike popcorn) but somehow we pulled out of the briny vortex and vowed to come back during happy hour. Soon.

One caveat at this place: It is best to avoid anything else on the menu. If you must, you can try the oyster stew or the clam chowder, but to delve any deeper into their offerings is to court disappointment in the form of a truly mediocre meal.

Details: Dan and Louis Oyster Bar, 208 SW Ankeny. Phone 503-227-5906.


Anonymous said...

Add one more dish to the safe-to-order items on the menu: Dungeness crab stew. Like oyster stew, but instead with lots of Dungeness instead. Yumyumyum--it's been my fave for years.

Kathleen Bauer said...

I haven't tried the crab stew, but they seem to do a good job on the other soup-y items. Thanks for the tip!