Oysters seem right for Tel’Veh. Right as you walk in, you’ll spot the nautical rope accents over the bar and coppery columns that look shipped straight from a sunken pirate’s booty. The Mount Vernon wine bar and cafe steered its rudder in the direction of oysters, its new specialty. Tel’Veh hosted its first monthly Oyster Class this week. Dark wooden dining tables were pushed together in a u-shape so that Dan Beck, legitimate oyster expert and rep from Northwest Shellfish Co, could steer us through the eight (you read it right, eight) kinds of oysters we’d try that night paired with a mini bottle of brut and a glass of France’s official oyster tasting wine, Muscadet.
Full disclosure: As a lifelong resident of the Atlantic coast, I love oysters. And I was expecting delicious oysters. Spolier alert: I got delicious oysters. What I wasn’t expecting was delicate subtleties in oysters from both coasts. Humans have eaten these bivalves for 125,000 years, Dan explained, and they’re a lazy man’s food. It’s like this: You’re in the ocean. You reach down, grab an oyster and pop it open with your primitive oyster eating tool. You enjoy. But there’s so much more to oyster eating than that.
In a cozy, candlelit atmosphere, oyster students sat close to one another. We listened to Dan talk about the first four varieties (Naked Roy, Hama Hama, Goose Point, Stellar Bay), exclusively West Coast specimens and flown in directly for Tel’Veh. Oysters were labeled with wine-style descriptors (“smooth and creamy,” “hints of lettuce”) , which made the humble oyster, well, gourmet. We cleansed our palettes after each slurped oyster with sips of Muscadet and slices of pear. My favorite best-coast farmed oyster was the mild, smooth Stellar Bay, purposefully tumbled in nets to rock the oyster into a deep cup within itself. Wild oyster shells like the Goose Point variety were rocky with disrupted wave patterns, but Stellar Bays were smoother, finer.
A well plated round of Wild Ninigret Pond, Popponosset Bay and Sunset Beach oysters rattled over hefty ice cubes encircling a fat half of lemon. On it was another indisputable favorite: those Wild Ninigrets. Dan chatted with us revealing they were ocean-grown and East Coast, packing bold salty flavor. Evoking schooner rides where oysters were pulled away and eaten straight from the ship’s harvest, tugging at my coastal heartstrings.
Between courses, Tel’Veh served bready baked oysters. First up came the Oyster Alla Venezianna, like an Oysters Rockefeller but claiming to be “traditional Roman” style. An “oyster soufflé” drizzled with pesto appeared after the second course of oysters, cinnamon wafting up from its casing.
Oysters really aren’t for me, you say. You say, this sounds like a well-guided tasting for someone who loves oysters, but what about me? I say, this is the best way to get to know oysters. With a good crop, an oyster master, a glass of wine and a glass of champagne in front of you, this is foolproof. I had to write this before revealing our final item: an oyster shooter. Tel’Veh poured together in-house bloody mary mix (we have the exclusive scoop on a few secret ingredients, so here’s one: dill pickle juice), vodka and two meaty oysters dropped into the bottom of the martini glass. Those oysters pack a vodka-flavored punch, so watch it. It’s one hell of a way to experience the world, ie, your oyster.