From hate to love, my ode to oysters
Charge me with food heresy, but I will raise my hands in defense and tell you, without batting an eyelash, that I have always disliked oysters.
They may be considered precious in a tropical country such as ours, deemed so special that my mom whips up garlic and cheese oysters only for Christmas family dinners.
Oysters to me look suspicious, like tiny aliens in a half-shell I will not want ever to land in my mouth.
“You don’t know what you’re missing,” my sister and brothers would say, before diving their hands into a heaping plate of oysters in a hotel restaurant we were dining in.
I had a change of heart (and palate) when one day, I accidentally mistook Japanese-style fried oysters for fried dory balls. My first reaction was panic. But I continued to chew, finding each chew to be more pleasant than the last, the salty, juicy, yet rich taste growing on me. Oysters immediately took one of the top spots on my favorite seafood list.
Which is why, when members of the press and fellow foodies were invited to Circle Event Café’s Oysters Monday buffet in Makati Shangri-La, I grabbed the chance to offer my longtime apologies and propose an ode to the briny and magnificent oysters.
Taste of the ocean
Oyster connoisseurs would say the best way to eat oysters is to have them raw, fresh and with just a squeeze of lemon. Take time to savor the naked flavor of the mollusk, they say with romantic flair. Follow it with a sip of white wine. Smile, relax, and imagine the ocean.
How I wish I could say the same thing for myself. I fell in love with cooked oysters, but old habits die hard. The raw ones still look a tiny bit suspicious.
I was perfectly content looking at and taking pictures of the long table of chilled oysters of different sizes and colors, and observing the droves of diners grabbing thongs and filling up their plates with piles of oysters.
There are eight kinds of oysters in the buffet, freshly flown in from France and different parts of Europe. Makati Shangri-La’s Executive Chef Paul Lenz explained that the season and the waters from these regions make for a perfect environment in cultivating oysters.
Chef Paul added, “The best oysters are produced in winter season, when the water drops to freezing temperatures. They are at their prime at this time of year.”
Consider it a tour of the oceans around the world. Oysters take on the flavor of their environment, therefore having different tastes. But the best one, according to what I gathered using Google, is from the coldest waters. This is the kind of oyster that has the right taste balance of mineral, cucumber, algae, and saltwater.
“The oysters came from different places: from Normandy, France, Utah Beach from West, Dutch, Netherlands, and one from Japan,” Chef Paul said.
Though he personally likes his oysters just eaten with a squeeze of lemon, the traditional style, Chef Paul provided a variety of sauces for the different kinds of oysters laid out that night. For the Oyster Dutch premium, there's mango and kiwi salsa. Pair the Oyster Terraostra with vodka and Tabasco sauce, the seaweed and ponzu sauce with Oyster Normandy, red wine and celery with Creuse Brittany, and lemon grass and teriyaki sauce with Oyster Hiutre Irlande.
Not feeling experimental with the sauces? You can start things off with the oysters served amuse-bouche style by waiters in all the tables. The oysters come in four different kinds: with vegetable vinaigrette, mango salsa, Thai dressing, or a simple squeeze of lemon.
Variety of oyster dishes
But if, like me, you are still wary of eating your oysters raw, fear not. There are different kinds of oyster dishes in the buffet that you can still enjoy. The best dish is the oyster pizza with mozzarella cheese. Because oyster has a powerful taste, the almost bland mozzarella balances it out.
I was excited about the garlic and cheese oysters, which unfortunately, fell below my expectations. The proportion of the cheddar cheese and the garlic sauce wasn't right. It was too salty that I had to wash away the taste with iced tea.
Besides the pizza, there were the oyster frittata and the sinful Rockefeller oysters which I both enjoyed. The latter dish was named after one of the richest Americans, John D. Rockefeller, for the intense richness of the sauce. The butter toned down the mineral aftertaste of the oysters, while the parsley and the green made it taste earthy at the same time. It's like the ocean meets soil in one rich, creamy dish.
And of course, I did not waste the opportunity to taste my first love, the Japanese-style fried oyster, which has a lovely and much-needed crunch. The oyster maki sushi was also being offered in the Japanese section, but I decided to skip it for the time being.
I reserved space in my tummy to eat the non-oyster food in the world cuisine buffet, like the US bone-in prime rib roast (which was melt-in-your-mouth soft), dim sum in the Chinese area, sashimi in the Japanese section, and of course, the biggest and best selection of desserts I've had so far. Almost all the desserts were visually appealing as they were delicious.
My advice? Choose wisely. Get the small tarts and cheesecakes so you can sample all the desserts, and get to lessen the guilt.
As for the oysters, I mustered my courage and tried eating a raw one with mango salsa, but stopped midway. The ode has to wait, my magnificent and briny friends. That would have to wait another time. —KG, GMA News