Food and drink: Finding that summer feeling 

When the world – or at least the Northwest coast – is your oyster

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 oyster ( Ostrea lurida) — also known as the Olympia oyster or Olys for short — the giant Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) 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 Ostrea lurida .

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 first try.

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