Saturday, August 30, 2008

eat the raw oysters. leave the tuna.

"We can go out for dinner, or I can cook."
"Can we go out for seafood?"
"Yay. I want oysters."
"Oysters? When did you start eating oysters?"
"Years ago."

Every once in a while, Lucille surprises me. She's visiting me in Boston for the week, escaping orientation week at her school. Of course, some things stay the same: we're going out to eat, and she's choosing the place.

So. Raw oysters.

I'll be honest. Despite my fondness for all kinds of sashimi, it has been a seriously long time since I last ate raw oysters. Come to think of it, it's been quite a while since I ate oysters, period.

I know of just one place in Boston where I'd feel comfortable eating raw oysters. It may not be trendy, but I know Legal Seafoods has a solid reputation, and I can trust that the oysters will be fresh.

The Legal Seafoods in the Prudential Center looks busy and pretty full when we arrive for dinner.

We haven't made a reservation, and for a moment, I worry that we're going to be in for a long wait. The hostess says that a party of two is no problem, however, and seats us immediately.

Our server is quick to bring menus and iced water, and we settle in to figure out what we're going to eat.

Lucille decides that we'll split a dozen Prince Edward Island oysters as our starter. She'll have something called the "Everything Tuna" as a main course. I settle on the "crab cake combo" - a crab cake with grilled shrimp and scallops on the side.

"So how did you develop this taste for raw oysters? I thought the last time we ate oysters was at Prunier's. And those were grilled and topped with cheese."
"I went to buffets with Mum when you weren't at home."

That would explain it. Well, she's braver than I am. After two summers as a kitchen apprentice, I've become a lot warier of buffets.

Our server returns, bearing a platter of crushed ice with the oysters and various condiments neatly arranged on top. Lucille selects an oyster, gives it a squeeze of lemon, loosens it from its shell with her fork, and slurps it up in one quick movement.

"Yum. These are good."

Well. Moment of truth. I pick up an oyster and do as Lucille does.

I'm pleasantly surprised - the Prince Edward Island oyster is much milder than the Pacific oysters I ate as a child. It has a sweet, creamy quality, and the brine is light and flavorful.

I try my next oyster with cocktail sauce, and the one after that with shallot vinegar. I decide that they taste best with just lemon. Lucille agrees.

The oysters give us high hopes for our main courses, which arrive shortly after the oyster platter is cleared. My crab cake combo is exactly as described: crab cake, shrimp, and scallops, with a bit of green salad on the side. Lucille's tuna comes with spinach, rice, and some sort of sauce. We ready our forks, and tuck in.

Okay. Not off to such a good start. The crab cake appears to be made up of "fresh lump crabmeat," but it tastes like breadcrumbs. Buttery breadcrumbs with a touch of mustard, and not much else.

Fortunately, the "combo" part of the "crab cake combo" is vastly better. The shrimp are juicy and flavorful, and - I am happy to note - taste of nothing but shrimp. But it's the scallops that really steal the show - plump and sweet and perfectly grilled, with just a dab of butter for seasoning. I'm sorry that there are only four of them, because I could easily polish off an entire plateful.

I notice that Lucille has eaten just a few bites of her tuna, and is tentatively touching her fork to the unidentified sauce.

"How's the tuna?"
"It's... a bit weird."

Lucille cuts off a chunk and deposits it on my plate. I notice that the crust on the tuna seems remarkably busy: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, bits of garlic, and bits of onion.

Then the penny drops. "Everything tuna." As in "everything bagel."

The idea seems a little gimmicky, but not too great a stretch from your average sesame-crusted tuna. I pop the chunk in my mouth and start chewing.

Oh. Oh dear. The fish appears to be fresh and of good quality, but the crust completely overwhelms it. The net effect is that of an everything bagel with an odd texture and a vaguely fishy aftertaste. Maybe the theory had merit, but it doesn't work in practice.

I look at Lucille, who has her sauce-dipped fork in her mouth, and is making a face.

"I see what you mean. What's the sauce?"
"I don't know. It's weird too."

I dip my fork in the sauce, which is white and has chopped vegetable bits of some sort. Some sort of hollandaise, maybe?

I bring the fork to my mouth. Apparently not.

"It's cucumber raita. Like the sauce you get with curry."
"Oh. Really weird."

I have to agree. I would guess that Legal Seafoods isn't going to win any awards for culinary innovation. They seem to do best when they keep it simple.

Lucille manages to eat most of her tuna before giving up and pushing the plate away. We decide to get dessert elsewhere.

Much to my surprise, Lucille is smiling as we leave the restaurant.

"I thought you didn't like the tuna."
"I didn't. Not really. But the oysters were really good."

I guess the moral of the story is to take the oysters, and leave the tuna.


Karl said...

The sad thing is that they are perfectly
capable of producing a tasty tuna steak
as long as you don't let them molest it too much.

adele said...

That's what we figured. I think it's possible to order plain grilled tuna with lemon. Oh well. Something to keep in mind next time.

Kim said...

I have had the misfortune of ordering seafood with more and wishing I had just ordered it simple seafood with lemon. Being a clam fan and learning to like oysters, I have been craving them for some odd reason. Can't wait till it gets colder here so I can start working on eating them. What I would'nt do for a big bowl of steamers today!

Virgin In The Volcano said...

Despite the iffy fish, you might have stayed for dessert. They do a real Boston cream pie (layers of cake so thin that the entire thing tastes like custard and simple, not overly sweet chocolate ganash on top) for which even I would fly out to Boston.

adele said...

Kim - I'm sure you'll have recipes to share too, right? :)

Virgin in the volcano - Well, we were pretty full. We got ice-cream on the way home. Good to know, though.

James said...

Wow...Legal actually does a wonderful tuna that that sounds like tuna for someone who doesn't like tuna. Damn pity...I wonder whose brilliant idea it was to ruin a good tuna steak so.

adele said...

I know. I distinctly remember trying a very straightforward pepper-crusted tuna on my last visit there. I guess marketing couldn't resist the idea?

Marinemom said...

Your post disappoints me. As a child (in the 1960's) my grandparents used to take us to Legal Seafood when we would visit in the summer. We used to eat heaping bowls of steamers and baskets of fried oysters, clams,scallops and shrimp. Yum, I can still taste it. Sometimes simpler is better and restauranteurs need to stick to the tried and true. Love your blog and have tried many of your recipies.

adele said...

Marinemom - My impression is that the marketing team at Legal Seafoods is meddling too much in the kitchen. If we go again, we'll stay away from the gimmicky stuff.

Thank you for your comment!