Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Ordinary On King Street-An Oyster Hall Ernest Hemmingway Would Fancy

Paris café Le Dome
In the 1920's, Ernest Hemmingway was in Paris. He sat at a cafe and ordered a plate of oysters and a glass of wine. After consuming the mollusks and vintage he described the experience. He wrote, "As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans."

It was this passage that sparked Jon Rowley's passion for oysters. As consultant to restaurants and seafood companies, he has received national marketing awards and considerable media coverage for restaurant oyster programs and promotions he has initiated. He is also credited with coining the word "merroir".

"Merroir" is used to describe an oyster's tasty relationship to the briny water it lives in. It is a twist on the French word "terroir" which refers to the unique flavors and qualities that a growing region imparts on the products raised there, as with grapes and wines.

"Merroir" brings to mind another observation penned by Tom Robbins, "Eating a raw oyster is like French kissing a mermaid." Alas, I can only imagine. When it comes to French kissing a mermaid or more precisely slurping oysters, I am a virgin. I have been to the oyster festivals in Charleston and watched people voraciously consume mountains of the beloved crustaceans, but I have resisted its affections. I like to chew my food.

Either way, "merroir" is a word associated with a new oyster hall in Charleston, The Ordinary. Its address is the once-upon-a-time Bank of America building on upper King Street built in 1929 renovated. Hall is a fitting designation for this fairly new American brasserie considering it has 22-foot ceilings. The massive bank vault door that once secured the money remains as an eye catching centerpiece. It separates the raw bar and the kitchen.

Chef Mike Lata speaks of "merroir" as he describes the oysters found in South Carolina's waters known for their briny, juicy burliness and rarely found outside this area. Two local oysters served are the Capers Blades and Otter Island wilds. Caper Blades are grown in Bull's Bay and Otter Island wilds are harvested around untouched Otter Island located between Edisto Beach and Hunting Island.

One notable difference between the two oysters is their shape. Capers Blades have sharp and elongated shells and Otter Island wilds are rounder and very flat. A second difference is where "merroir" comes in. The taste of each oyster is related to the waters where it is harvested. The Otter Island oyster is "considered by many to be one of the best wild oysters to ever be harvested in South Carolina characterized as being meaty, salty yet sweet, full flavored South Carolina oyster." The question remains, will you agree? Only one way to find out.  

While it is an oyster hall, other menu offerings include cold and hot dishes of clams, lobster, and a crispy grouper sandwich. Large plates of Swordfish Schnitzel, Black Bass Provencal, Grilled Wahoo and Blackened Mahi Frites are offered with vegetables and sides. All wine offerings are shellfish driven.

So, take the hint from Hemmingway and be happy and make plans to visit The Ordinary. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 3pm to 11pm. Location is 544 King Street.

Vote for the Best Iconic American Foods. Charleston, SC-Shrimp and Grits is a nominee. The final results will be posted July 24th.

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