Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

FOOD SECTION: January 30, 2008 - Oysters, Terroni, and more! Oh My!

Fried Oyster Set - Miyajima, Japan

Today, Russ Parsons writes about oysters, not just raw, but cooked. This strikes a chord with me because I just finished reading The Big Oyster, by Marc Kurlansky. A book that details the history of New York via its relationship with oysters, as well as giving all kinds of interesting information on the biology of oysters and ecology of the areas they live in. Some fun facts I learned from the book:

- The word Yankee comes from the British derogatory name for Dutch New Yorkers - "Jan Kees" (John Cheese). Tee hee!

- You can train oysters! In order to keep them alive while shipping, oystermen developed methods to train oysters to stay shut when cued. As long as they stay shut, oysters can survive out of water for a long time.

-When you eat an oyster raw, it is generally still alive. Its heart is still beating as you swallow it down. That delicious briny liquor that is essential to the experience is the oyster's blood. Bottoms up!

- Oysters used to grow to be 8-10 inches across before they were overfished. It takes many years for them to grow that large.

- The sewage was so bad in New York at the turn of the century that in the summertime, floating bathhouses were set up along the shore and children would come out of the water from their swim covered in poo. Fabulous.

Mr. Parsons gives you several ideas for cooking up your oysters, so let me offer you one he did not cover. Everyone loves fried things, so here is a classic recipe for fried oysters:

"Take large oysters from their own liquor into a thickly folded napkin to dry them off; then make a tablespoonful of lard or beef fat hot, in a thick-bottomed frying pan, add to it a half salt-spoonful of salt; dip each oyster in wheat flour, or cracker rolled fine, until it will take up no more, then lay them in the pan, hold it over a gentle fire until one side is a delicate brown; turn the other by sliding a fork under it; five minutes will fry them after they are in the pan. Oysters may be fried in butter but it is not so good; lard and butter half and half is very nice for frying. Some persons like a very little of the oyster liquor poured in the pan after the oysters are done, let it boil up, then put it in the dish with the oysters; when wanted for breakfast this should be done." - Mrs. T.J. Crowen, The American System of Cookery, 1864


Terroni: S. Irene Virbila works her reviewing magic on Terroni this week. I've already touched on Terroni, not once but twice. She rates it a young hipstery place and gives it one star. Like hose who came before her, she takes exception to the "cut your own pizza" policy and I have to say to the chef that it may be time to rethink this stubborn insistence on authenticity. It may be true that pizzas in Italy usually come whole and you must cut them yourself. But the pizzas I have had in Italy/Europe are generally thinner and crisper and therefore easier to cut with a knife. The pizzas at Terroni have a slightly thicker, chewier and moister crust and S. Irene is right, you really need an assistant to restrain the pizza for you, or there's danger of your pizza just flying across the table.

She has a mixed reaction to the food, which seems justified and to fit with my experiences of the place so far. She recommends sticking with pasta and pizza and I agree. Although I have heard a report of some less-than-stellar pasta coming out of the kitchen, described as "too al dente," J. loved the seafood linguini. She describes the service as "pleasant but harried," which also fits my impressions.

I would still recommend the place for a lunch or a casual early dinner. The price is right, and the atmosphere is friendly.

Movers and Shakers:
There's some shuffling going on in the restaurant world. The restaurant journal reports that Chef Josef Centeno (above) formerly of Opus, is looking for a space in Silverlake. He plans to open a small restaurant called Volver, with a chef's counter akin to Minibar, serving a chef's tasting menu only. The rest of the place may choose from a more casual a la carte menu.

Also, Don Dickman, formerly of Matteo's and Rocca, has joined Dish in La CaƱada as executive chef and partner. The restaurant serves classic American cuisine.

Market Report: And finally, what should you go foraging for at the Farmer's Market this weekend? Mr. Parsons pops up again to tell us that Meiwa kumquats (a sweet kumquat) are in peak season right now, along with kishu mandarins and broccolini.

Go look for them! I am going to tell you right now that something amazing J. and I discovered last year was to go to the Beverly Hills farmers' market and buy one of the rotisserie chickens from there, along with a bag of kumquats. Slice the kumquats into rounds, and plaster them all over the chicken, then bake for a while. Mmmmmmm.


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