Mark was in town researching some stories and, sensible man that he is, he didn’t want to take the overnight train to Venice on an empty stomach. Yes, of course, he’d just had lunch and yes, of course, I was going to go straight from our rendezvous to dinner, but oysters, unlike the wedge of coconut-layer cake your mom wouldn’t let you have before supper, don’t seem to fill you up – they just seem to make you happy.
For our little indulgence, I took Mark over to my favorite oyster bar, RÃ©gis HuÃ®trerie (3 rue de Montfaucon, Paris 6; (0)1-44-41-10-07). Just off the bustling Boulevard Saint-Germain and steps from the hubbub of the rue de Seine markets, RÃ©gis is a pristine-white oasis of briny calm.
There are just seven small tables in the spare, beautifully lit room, all with a view of the action: RÃ©gis or his second shucking some of the city’s finest bivalves, arranging them on ice and seaweed and serving them with mignonette sauce (red-wine vinegar and shallots) which, while fine for somethings is not, in my opinion, fine for oysters, particularly oysters as good as these; lemon, a quick squeeze of which is okay on an oyster, but no squeeze is fine too; and good dark bread and salted butter, a tradition, a treat and a must.
We ordered four kinds of oysters:
Belons, considered the ne plus ultra of oysterdom, they have flat shells and are often said to have a metallic (in a good way) flavor; Mark called the flavor coppery and the description is spot-on
Fines de claires, small round-bottomed oysters that spend about 1 month in les claires, or ponds, before they are harvested; the growing specs for fines de claires are about 20 oysters per square meter
SpÃ©ciales de claires, from the same clan as the fines, these oysters have a bigger flavor and larger size because they spend at least 2 months in the pond and are given more room to grow – there are only about 10 spÃ©ciales per square meter
Pousses en claires, the embodiment of the expression “big fish in a little pond”; the pousse en claire spends a leisurely 4 to 6 months in les claires and has plenty of room to grow to a remarkable plumpness – there can be as few as 3 oysters per square meter, which explains why les pousses en claires are relatively rare and always expensive
“It’s not often that the belons aren’t the best oyster on the table,” was Mark’s comment after his first of the pousses en claires. He’s right – but when the belons are great and everything else is even greater, it means you’re awfully lucky. And we were.
I’ve got just one more night in Paris and, while I’ve got a dinner date tonight, I’m thinking it just might be my responsibility to keep our new tradition of l’heure des huÃ®tres alive.