In the raw
I’ve been spending some time with Patrick McMurray’s new book, Consider The Oyster: A Shucker’s Field Guide, (McClelland and Stewart/Madison Press). It’s a handsome little volume, well illustrated with photographs of shuckers and shucking competitions, old oyster markets and people eating oysters. The shots of actual oyster beds are worth lingering over and of course there’s a family album of all the many different kinds of oyster that pass through McMurray’s Toronto restaurant, Starfish, each pic surrounded by lore, history and tasting notes. That alone makes the book a vital vade mecum for the itinerant Ostreavore—not to mention the chapter on the different shucking techniques of recent world champions (himself included).
I’m not quite sure of the wisdom of the title. M.F.K.Fisher’s timeless gem, Consider The Oyster, was published in 1954 but is still the acknowledged masterpiece on the subject, written in her graceful, poetic, word-perfect prose. I guess Patrick called his book by the same title in homage to Fisher (he quotes from her and includes his book’s namesake in the select bibliography) but that’s risky—like a promising modern playwright penning a play about adolescent love and calling it Romeo and Juliet. It kind of begs comparison… On the other hand, Patrick’s book will be forever shelved beside Fisher’s—her front pressed to his back—good company to keep for as long as books shall last. And they complement each other— Fisher giving her point of view from the kitchen and as a customer in the raw bar of life, Patrick on the other side of the counter, twisting the knife with cheerful expertise. I shall treasure his contribution and urge anyone who enjoys oysters to go out and buy it immediately.
Down at First Canadian Place, Vertical is now open for breakfast—a handy spot for financial district types who feel peckish at 7:30 a.m. I went there to spend quality time with my editor, expecting every table to be busy with troupes of bankers frolicking around some magnificent old silverback CEO. We were the only customers—but not to worry. Vertical’s decision to open is so recent that word hasn’t spread quite yet. I don’t suppose chef Tawfik Shehata actually comes in to cook at that hour but the menu is attractive, the service charming and the food was scrumptious. Maybe the power breakfast is due for a revival. It would be especially delightful if they opened the outdoor terrace at that hour. Officeless grasshoppers like me could sit there all morning, reading the papers, drinking coffee and idly watching the world go by. But, come to think of it, I’d rather be in a park or my tiny, sun-filled junglebox garden.
Tom Thai’s new place, Foxley, is doing well at 207 Ossington. It’s a small space with a high ceiling and it looks as though the whole décor budget was blown on the lights. Staff are from Tempo and the room moves along smoothly. Thai made a conscious decision not to do any of his dazzling avant-garde sushi or sashimi here but the best thing on the menu almost qualifies. It’s a ceviche of sea bream but the slices of rich, sweet, raw fish are only slipped into the yuzu juice marinade when the order comes in so their texture is uncompromised by the acid. Thai garnishes them with shredded shiso leaf, crispy shallots and ground Japanese red pepper. Heaven. And who was at the next table? Hanif Harji, owner of Kultura and Colborne Lane. Ceviche is going to be big on the menu of Crudo, the new restaurant he and Claudio Aprile are opening this summer on Queen West, just a short bus ride from Foxley. How lucky we all are to have such lovely things to eat.