Thursday, November 29, 2001
I don''t even remember deciding to get into a holiday spirit. But I found myself feeling thankful on several occasions over the past weekend.
It happened while sitting around the Thanksgiving Day table, eating cousin Jeff''s turkey dinner, listening to mom laugh at cousin Dennis'' stories about his two-year, around-the-world voyage. It happened again over at Danny and Meg''s, with a bunch of friends visiting from back home, sipping whisky and talking politics until midnight like we always used to. Again with Penelope in Soberanes Canyon on Sunday, toward the end of a great little day-hike, peering through the redwoods at a dazzling red sunset on the ocean. And again an hour later, sitting in Flaherty''s, eating raw oysters and washing them down with a good cheap chardonnay.
Flaherty''s Oyster Bar doesn''t strain to be casual or unpretentious or retro-cool, but it is. An old marble bar with a dozen low-backed cane stools, a dozen four-tops with little linen tablecloths, the place feels more like a well-lit locals hangout than a trendy oyster bar. The service is friendly and homey. The menu is simple and straightforward. But the food is spectacular.
We''d gone straight from the trail to the car to the restaurant, and didn''t feel a bit uncomfortable about sitting in a fine-dining joint wearing shorts and boots and fleece. After the Thanksgiving feast Thursday and the leftovers feast Friday and a post-holiday grilled-fish-and-pasta feast Saturday, Penelope and I were both in the mood for a simple, light meal. But we were also kind of hungry from the hike.
I have to say that I am still learning to love oysters--a childhood problem with the texture stayed with me well into adulthood. Even though I''ve had a handful of good experiences over the past four or five years, I tend toward sushi when in the mood for raw seafood. So we only ordered a half-dozen--three plump Atlantic Blue Points and three plumper Pacific Fanny Bays ($9.25).
We started with one Blue Point apiece, which we enjoyed straight up, with just a little lemon, savoring the icy oceanic freshness. We put a little bit of the house horseradish-and-tomato cocktail sauce on a couple of the fat Fanny Bays. A crisp Bernardus 1998 Monterey chardonnay ($36) took the place of the classic oyster-bar martini, and did so quite nicely. After Penelope finished the last Fanny Bay and I downed the final Blue Point, and just as I was beginning to feel deeply disappointed that we''d only ordered a half-dozen, our crab cocktail arrived.
I had been imagining this crab cocktail ever since a visit to Flaherty''s one night last week. I''d gone planning to finish off some work over a bowl of Manhattan clam chowder but had changed my mind when I saw crab chowder on the menu. Ten-fifty seemed like a lot for a bowl of soup but I''d never even seen crab chowder. It was really something special. I ate it with a small basket of good bread (chewy sourdough and chewier sourdough-seed) and a glass of house pinot grigio ($7.50), (which was only okay). There was plenty of crab in the chowder but it made me want more.
The crab cocktail was everything a crab cocktail should hope to be--nothing but a heaping pile of cold, sweet crabmeat topped with a dollop of cocktail sauce ($12.95). We both started politely, taking bites that seemed to fit the little cocktail forks. But after a few of these, and a few more sips of the Bernardus, we both began taking grownup-sized forkfuls. On a whim, I asked a busser to bring us some melted butter, which he did in five seconds, but after a taste or two for variety''s sake, we ignored the butter in favor of the cocktail sauce. (It does not take any culinary genius to put a pile of crabmeat into a cocktail glass--but to make a crab sauce better than butter? For that alone Flaherty''s wins kudos.)
Timing is important, and we had just the right amount of time to refill our glasses and catch our breath when our entrée arrived. In our light-dining mood, we''d elected to split the Linguini con Pescatore ($21.95), the classic Italian shellfish-and-pasta combo. Chef Francisco Cocova works his pescatore with a sauce that''s an inspired cross between a putanesca and a pomodoro: fresh tomatoes, plenty of garlic, capers, olives and mushrooms and--a Monterey County touch--plenty of artichoke hearts, all in a light wine sauce. Also plenty of sea scallops, tiger prawns, and fresh mussels and clams in the shell. After we polished it off we dipped our bread in the sauce and didn''t feel even a little bit guilty.
I was stuffed but I was wishing we''d picked a time other than Thanksgiving weekend to try Flaherty''s. I regretted not getting to try the seafood mixed grill ($25.95), the cioppino ($27.95) the crab ravioli ($21) or the sand dabs ($19.95). I wished we could have gone back to the beginning and augmented our oysters with some steamers--Flaherty''s serves any of four varieties of shellfish a night, simmered in a broth of clams, garlic, shallots and lemon ($9.95). I wished we could put on some pants and go next door to the Seafood Grill and start over. But then I realized: Flaherty''s is 10 minutes from my house. And for that I am thankful.