oh SHUCKS : Oyster House

RER 1.11.13
They were glum that Friday night. Maybe it was because the weather was so dreadfully dreary. It was cloudy all day, warm, but ominous. And then it sprinkled, and then it rained, and then it was dark. Maybe it was because they were both realizing that their little sojourn was coming to an end, and this was one of their last adventures in Philadelphia, this time. It was probably the latter.

RER 1.11.13
They were a little soppy when they finally arrived to Oyster House, much like the boisterous bunch that had already gathered there. They got in the door right around when the happy hour including "1 Buck Shucks" and discounted featured drinks ended, but the crowd was still there, loud, lingering, and probably getting warmer and hungrier. There was a wait for a table in the dining area, outside of the bar as well as the oyster bar. So they stood there, taking in the sights; the dim lighting in the bar area lined with giant windows looking out onto the wet streets, the hostesses hovering over a tiny table, the hanging black and white photographs revealing a different time, the bright lights above the counters surrounding the shuckers. There was a lot to see, but the wait time allowed for observation.

RER 1.11.13
They finally were seated at a tiny table near the oyster bar. A perfect view for the daily special oysters and clams scrawled on a chalkboard, and the men in white aprons surrounded by oysters and ice. On the table rested a giant glass filled to the brim with what chewed like crackers, but were shaped more like knots, accompanied by a jar of tangy horseradish. The walls were heavy with plates that looked to be haphazardly hung up; different colors, different stories.

The menu appeared to be transitory, changing with the times and the catch of the day. It was only on a single sheet of paper, printed with the date, and the dishes. Their server revealed, after politely responding to the forever question “what do you recommend?”, that the proteins basically remain the same, but their preparation and side accoutrements change almost daily. This means fresh, innovative, and always moving. Though he gave insight into the vision and the method of the restaurant, his suggestions for food felt open and surface.

RER 1.11.13
To start, they landed on oysters, three ways. The small tastes of the sea animal that is the namesake of the restaurant, served as a method of procrastination. Neither could officially decide what they wanted to eat. The first of the three was topped with something like a pesto. It was herbaceous, and kind of buttery in the mouth. The second featured the strong flavors of ginger and scallion, described as Thai. This oyster was sweet and spicy, and fresh from the greenness of the scallions. And the last was surrounded by a jalapeno butter topped with a pickled radish. This radish gave a contrasting crunch to the smooth, chewiness of the raw oyster. In the end all of the disparate varieties were too buttery, disguising rather than enhancing the pearl within the shell. And they were still hungry.

Finally deciding on a scallop dish for her, and a meaty mackerel for him, they ordered and waited. Munching on the spherical crackers and the warm bread, they revealed expectations and raised concerns. When the plates came to their table, they were visions, perfected, and pretty, a slew of browns and oranges, accented by some moments of green.

JAR 1.11.13
The mackerel fillet topped a bed of wilted kale, with a mound of pureed sweet potatoes just below, and was striped with loud red orange hot sauce. The presentation of the dish, invited them to combine the elements, demanding that each bite contained a morsel from each of the levels, blending fish with root and leaf. And that bite with all of the ingredients, mixing the rainbow, was almost perfect. The meatiness of the fish held up to the almost too sweet delicious sweet potato puree and earthy kale. It felt like a southern adventure, the kale and sweet potato staples and the heartier fish. Even the hot sauce was a shout out to a different style of cooking; hot, tangy and pungent. The hot sauce was just enough to cut the sweetness of the puree, while enhancing it, as well as bringing life to the kale. They only wished for another texture, something to counter the kind of sogginess on the plate. Though the fish was meaty, tender and textured, it was out numbered. Something crisp or crunchy would have elevated the dish and covered all the bases that the mouth longs for.

RER 1.11.13
Just like the mackerel dish, the scallop plate had a kind of textural monotony, and suffered from yet another uniformity, color. The scallops rested on a bed of root vegetables, parsnip, sunchoke and celery root. Both the scallops and the root medley, were dressed with a disguised grapefruit vinaigrette. This dressing was almost silent throughout the plate, until tiny pockets of pulp were stumbled on. And then, it was a raw burst of bitterness. The purpose of the grapefruit, was to usher in a counter point, a freshness to balance the heaviness of the earthy root trio. Unfortunately, it was too bitter and too strong, lingering on the tongue. The scallops, though pretty to look at, they decided, contained no flavor. The sponge like seafood, grasped on to no flavor, none of the oils that the roots were coated in nor the tart dressing. They did not even have any salt. Though the roots all tasted mildly different, some sweeter and softer, some more crunchy and sturdy, it was hard to discern much. It was a plate full of a lot of the same. Something green and lively could have made all the difference, something with a different chew and lighter to counter the heaviness of all the roots.

Mild disappointment and dissatisfaction, led them to think about ordering more food, there or somewhere else. They still felt hungry and deceived, like the warmth of the crowd and the lights, the abruptness of the hostess, and the various websites boasting the greatness, all let them down. They wanted more out of the Oyster House... Dessert, maybe?

RER 1.11.13
Dessert as always was a must for them, and hopefully some kind of redemption. After perusing the menu and hearing the specials with little indecision, but much time, the pair picked the special coconut rice pudding and one of the favorites, banana cake. A few green pistachios rested on the surface of the rice pudding. As rice pudding fans, they were anxious with anticipation, but the end results were not stultifying. It was wet, like the store bought variety. The rice in the interior was soft and soggy, and dissipated into the creaminess of the custard. There were mild, if any notes, of coconut. They were excited to taste the exotic and almost foreign flavor to rice pudding, but it was thin almost transparent. This was just run of the mill rice pudding for them, nothing magical or unexpected.

The banana cake, however was mildly more interesting, and they found themselves addicted. Though addictive, it was not fully delicious. The cake had the essence of banana, but it was dry and holey not the texture they were used to. And the cream cheese frosting did not have the pronounced bite of cream cheese, but was super sweet and fluffy. All the flavors were mild and almost excruciatingly sweet. The little chocolate cookie crumbles surrounding the cake on the dish, and on top of the slice, served as relief. It was a different texture a different flavor, something mildly bitter to break up the tooth wrecking, cavity producing sweetness.

RER 1.11.13
In the end, they paid for too much time for parking, and could not draw out their visit to the Oyster House any longer. It was the noise and perhaps a mild annoyance that drove them out. There was no contesting that the seafood wasn't fresh, and the ingredients were not top of the line. But there was something lacking. Maybe it was soul and spirit. There were plenty of those characteristics in the patrons, but the staff and food felt played out and tired,like they did not quite want to be there. The balance was also lacking, between creative, innovative and practical and satisfying.

RER 1.11.13

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food for thought...