Plus Ça Change

As a happy coincidence, shortly after my return our dear friend Philippe had his birthday, which occasioned an event that cushioned any culture shock I might have been feeling after ten days of immersive and hedonistic Gallic gastronomy. John ordered a hundred Wellfleet oysters from Gerard and we had a quick telephone consultation about wine. And then we partied.

Photo by Milo

It’s been gloriously warm and sunny, so the festivities began early with just John and us and the birthday boy out on the porch shucking oysters and drinking wine and watching the sun paint people and mountains alike with that lavish afternoon glow. John found his last Gangloff Condrieu, which was a good thing, since it’s a creamy, round mouthful of sunlight and an excellent foil to plump, briny oysters. John made both mignonette and a rice vinegar-tarragon-lime sauce, and there were lemon wedges as well. We murdered plate after plate of these, and there were still plenty left for the next wave of guests who arrived a couple of hours later. It’s safe to say that all the wonderful oysters I ate in Paris only whetted my appetite for more of them. We worked our way through some excellent Champagne: a bottle of Gosset that I brought, which I love, and his Camille Savès.

There was much slurping and comparing of the various condiments, wines, and the lobster pâté that Philippe brought. Purists eat their oysters neat, of course, but I must say that I like a few drops of lemon juice to set off their briny subtlety and an occasional spoon of sharp, shalloty vinegar is very pleasurable.

Part two took place indoors, where John roasted the rest of the oysters in the oven with a garlicky and bitter dandelion pesto.

I cooked thin strips of steak that I had marinated in gochujang, currant vinegar, mustard, and sesame oil for a few hours. I topped them with more of the pesto. The reds were a mighty array of Rhônes: Saint-Cosme’s 1998 “Valbelle” Gigondas and their 1999 Côte Rôtie as well as an Hermitage that I am ashamed to say I can’t remember the name or year of. I blame all of the other bottles.

And there was cake, of course, but what I loved was having the oysters make up the bulk of the meal with some piquant beef at the end to play off the bigger wines. If I lived closer to the ocean, this would be a regular thing, but here in the sticks the special rarity of perfect shellfish, the gorgeous weather, and the convivial company made this evening an ideal transition back to real life from the French food fantasy. Plus, I was hungover the next day, so it felt like I was still in France.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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