Oysters. You either love them or hate them. There really is no middle ground in regards to this vegan bivalve. Those that hate oysters tend to not ever be able to get over the slimy, slightly snotty texture or the fact that they are eating a live being. Just barely a year ago I fell into this category…until I really gave oysters a chance. I’m pleased to admit that I am now able to enjoy them, however, I am still trying to work my way up to eating them in vast quantities like I’ve seen some seasoned oyster eaters do.
My first oyster experience was last March during the Big Taste Calgary event. As it was part of an event at River Café, I gathered my courage, opened my throat, and let it slide down. It wasn’t bad. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to have oysters at various events and restaurants and on Friday I enjoyed an ‘Oyster 101’ evening hosted by Rodney Clarke himself. He is currently in Calgary overseeing the first few opening weeks of the newest Rodney’s Oyster House at 355 10th Ave SW. Rodney Clarke
Rodney has been in the oyster business for nearly 40 years. He started out shucking oysters at home parties, then began delivering oysters on a small scale which eventually turned into a wholesale business. He takes great pride in the quality of product and service that he provides, learning early on from his father that “If you give a person a good oyster, you’ll have them forever’. With the help of some investors he opened his first oyster bar in Toronto with a small 18 seater in 1987 that has grown in size over the years. After opening two locations in Vancouver (in Gastown and Yaletown) in recent years, Rodney believed it was time for Calgarians to get a share of some oyster love. Though he’s been coming to Calgary for over 19 years for the Mount Royal ‘Pearls of Wisdom‘ charitable event, Calgarians can finally enjoy some of his East coast hospitality.
Rodney’s Oyster House Calgary
Rodney’s opened quietly on Monday, January 26. There were no large parties or blowouts, the focus being on treating the limited number of customers to the best of their ability. There will be limited reservations and walk-ins for the first couple of weeks to ensure that everyone enjoys their experience. In fact eventually only 3/5 of the restaurant will be reservable, leaving lots of seating room for walk in customers. The Oyster 101 class that I was invited to was a media event sponsored by Rodney’s Calgary. I arrived early on Friday evening to get a preview of the restaurant before the event. The interior is bright and airy, with white boarded walls and wooden flooring. East Coast nautically themed touches, including the eye catching central ‘chandelier’ composed of net and glass floats, were scattered throughout. The large room is dominated by the ‘Boulder Bar’, a triangular shaped, granite topped bar which surrounds a large Alberta Rundle Stone boulder and oyster tub. In addition to bar seating, there is seating for any size of group, from two to two hundred in various combinations around the space, including the mezzanine ‘Oarloft’ area with it’s own private shucking bar.
Who knew there was so much to learn about oysters? Did you know oysters are vegan, eating five different types of seaweed via the 7-9 litres of water they filter per day? Did you know there are five different varieties of North American oysters but that they aren’t all indigenous (naturally occurring)? Did you know that an oyster can be male one year, then become female the following year? Most importantly I learned that the best oysters display three really important traits:
We began with some nice, thick New England Clam Chowder made from East Coast bar clams and fresh quahogs from Cape Cod. It was delicious and hearty at the same time; not too salty and very thick, like coastal fog. On the same plank, we had a few pieces of Willy Krauch smoked salmon, all the way from the oldest smokehouse in Nova Scotia. We ate it on dark, dense bread with cream cheese, capers, and onions (in that order!). Then it was time for the oysters. I was just about to reach for the lemon when Rodney began to explain that the best way to eat an oyster is without sauce or lemon and to chew, rather than swallow it whole. I wasn’t going to argue with a three time Canadian oyster shucking champion! Each one was paired with a wine, except the last which was paired with Steamwhistle pilsner. I took one look at the last oyster and panicked a bit. I thought about asking for a knife and fork but by the end of the tasting I was ready to eat it whole. We began with a Vancouver Island oyster (Kusshi)and Spanish Cava. I think that one was my favourite because it had a nice salty kick to it; almost as if it had sauce on it already. We followed the first oyster with a Beach Angel from Cortez Island, BC, then another (Kumamoto) from Washington State, USA. Our final, and largest oyster (the Cotuit) was a very meaty mouthful from Maine, USA.
Our evening was both delicious and informative. Rodney’s Oyster 101 classes will be available to book privately at some point in the future, though Rodney will be returning to Toronto soon. After our session, we had a quick tour of the restaurant areas that haven’t been opened to the public yet. There are private rooms and a side takeout called the ‘Bait and Tackle’. There you can order some freshly shucked oysters to go as well as fish and chips, Clam Chowder, and lobster rolls. I’m expecting Rodney’s Oyster House to be a welcome (and busy) addition to the core’s lunch food scene.