Matthew and I got to Chicago on Wednesday morning and after solving various phone issues (we were both getting the shakes after a few hours without our Blackberries) stopped into Shaw’s Crab House. We were there for the Royster with the Oyster, which Shaw’s has been putting on for more than 20 years. We made it there in time for the Oyster Hall of Fame dinner honoring Rodney Clark, the newest inductee.
Personally, I find it fascinating that there is an actual place where the biggest, best-known names in oysters (Hog Island, Jon Rowley, Joan Reardon, Rowan Jacobsen, MFK Fischer, and of course, Island Creek) are honored in an official way (and yes, there is an actual hall in the form of a private dining room filled with photos of all the inductees). They get together this time every year to celebrate oysters, reconnect, and honor those who have kept these fascinating bivalves in the spotlight.
The dinner was a hoot. We slurped back oysters (Rod’s Queens, which I was told were about 12 years old, ShanDaphs, and Sand Dunes) opened by Rodney’s 25-year-old son Eamon (a master shucker – Rodney thanked him for “his stroke on the knife to the calcium”) and then sat down to dinner to hear speeches, the reading of letters from those who couldn’t be there and plenty of oyster conversation. Rodney’s Oyster House is up in Toronto where Clark is considered Mr. Oyster. He was an entertaining speaker who kept it short (it was only as long as the number of words that fit onto an airsickness bag, which is what he wrote it on) and referred to his placement in Chapter 11 of Robb Walsh’s book Sex, Death and Oysters as the only way he ever wanted to be affiliated with Chapter 11.
Hendo and I spent the rest of the weekend running around Chicago visiting restaurants with our oysters in tow. A few highlights were peeking into the Alinea kitchen from a side window during service one night (chef Dave probably would have kicked us off our perch if we’d spent one more minute spying on them; chef Grant hardly looked up from his work), being greeted at Charlie Trotter’s kitchen entrance by Mr. Trotter himself, hearing about the Chicago social scene from chef Bruce Sherman (who then sent us to The Wieners Circle for the best charred hot dogs of my life) and two incredible meals at Publican. Friday, we spent awhile chatting up the crew there and got to know owner Paul Kahan who was incredibly gracious and funny (I love that he visits Avec and Blackbird every night but almost always ends up at Publican to shuck oysters and drink a beer).
After Friday’s first Publican visit (we went back late-night for dinner), we went to Shaw’s where Steve LaHaie showed us his new collection of oyster plates (they were a gift from author Joan Reardon).
Eventually, we made it to the Festival where the annual slurp off ended with a win by Jon Ashby … who just happened to be wearing an Island Creek tshirt (we owe that guy a bag of oysters). And please, if you have a minute, you’ve got to listen to this emcee go on about the requirements for winning this contest. He was a riot.