CBC TV’s weather presenter and meteorologist extraordinaire, Claire Martin, was bang on the money when she predicted months ago that this would be the summer that never was. But if you’re looking for ways to simulate that summer feeling, a rambling road trip through seafood heaven will do the trick.
One of the most beautiful drives on the Northwest coast — aside from the Sea to Sky Highway, naturally — starts with the languid Chuckanut Drive, which meanders its way south from Bellingham, Washington. By sticking to the picture-postcard county roads, you can weave your way south through Washington state all the way down to the Oregon coast, winding through charming coastal ports and villages with names like Bayview and Grays Harbour. There you’ll find oyster shells piled high into modern-day middens the size of Village Square.
Oysters in the American Northwest pretty much share the fate of
those on the B.C. coast. While both areas were once home to a small native
Ostrea lurida) —
known as the Olympia oyster or Olys for short —
the giant Pacific oyster
was brought over from Japan in the
early 1900s to seed commercial oyster beds and has pretty much taken over.
“Giant Pacific oyster” isn’t your basic toss-off of a name. We
once watched a fellow decked out in gumboots and Gore-Tex dig out monsters that
were a foot long and more at Birch Bay. This beautiful little bay, tucked just
south of the 49th parallel and Blaine, Washington, was where Captain George
Vancouver first anchored his mother ships before venturing off in smaller boats
to explore the coast around what is now Vancouver, and beyond.
We can only assume that he was adventuresome enough,
sophisticated enough or hungry enough to try the native Olys. If so, and were
he alive today, he would no doubt tell you what most oyster aficionados do
— that the native oyster is far superior in flavour compared to its larger
and less fussy neighbour, which has multiplied beyond commercial beds due to
its ability to thrive in waters too silty, too polluted or otherwise less
suited to the poor little delicate
Not that it matters that much anyway, at least in today’s U.S.
Northwest. Unlike the oysters you can enjoy at places like Bearfoot Bistro or
Araxi, the only ones we found, in I don’t know how many restaurants
specializing in seafood that we tried along the Washington/Oregon coast, were
breaded and deep-fried and served up with your choice of cocktail or tartar
sauce. Nicely done for deep fry, but the novelty wears off partway through your