Walrus & Carpenter Low Tide Oyster Picnic

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By Vienna Catalani

This wouldn't be your typical oyster hunt, nor would it be your average wine tasting event. We arrived at Totten Inlet around 8 p.m., knife in hand, lantern on head. I had on about five layers, and felt like Randy from "A Christmas Story."

It appeared as though we were in Lady Luck's favor. A thunderstorm had passed, leaving us with a clear, crisp night. We followed the winding path down to the beds where several hearty men had been feverishly shucking oysters. A warming fire had just been lit, and wine was poured into Riedel stemware.

A few small tents had been set up as oyster bars with two dedicated to award-winning wines. Filled with sheer delight, I grabbed a few oysters and enjoyed the warmth of the fire while taking in the scene around me. I imagined all the swanky foodie folks were drunken sailors, wine and oyster in hand, stumbling upon the oyster-riddled ground.

Farm-to-table

Who needs a table? I grew up in South Texas, a daughter from a long line of produce brokers and farmers. We've always known where our food was grown, and whose backyard had the best grapefruit tree. One of my earliest memories is of sneaking into fields with my grandmother on covert pecan-snatching missions.

Shucking oysters by lantern light on the bay stirred childhood memories I'd nearly forgotten. I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for my humble beginnings at the same moment the tell-tale "POP!" came from the oyster shell I had been attempting to shuck.

Behold: my first shucked oyster. Ta-dah! There it was, for all the world to see. I immediately ran over to my adopted oyster-shucking mentor to show off this salty, slimy, God-given oyster. I found out later this patient gentlemen was none other than Ken Sharp, executive chef.

"Well, aren'tchya gonna eat it?" he said. Ken had shucked probably about 25 oysters in the time I shucked my one. Every now and then, he'd come over and say, "Oh, still workin' on that same one?" I probably shucked about three oysters in 45 minutes -- those Pacifics are tough! My first was a Virginica, though, and now they shall hold a special place in my heart.

I can honestly tell you that the taste of a freshly-shucked oyster right from the sand is in a class of its own . The flavor, salty and almost meaty, is unmatched. Words don't do it justice.

All oysters are not created equal

I can proudly say I now have a discerning eye for oysters. It's all in the shell, you see. Taylor Shellfish Farms thoroughly educated us on oyster origins, shell types and otherwise fun facts. I bet you didn't know the Olympia oyster, a Puget Sound native, was nearly wiped out by a pulp mill.

Taylor Shellfish Farms have been family owned for generations, and have four different oysters sitting pretty on that bay, all mine for the taking! Pacifics, Virginicas, Kumamotos, and Olympias were little starlets that evening, having their photo taken from every angle by voracious paparazzi who were waiting to slurp them up.

Of Cabbages and Kings

The oyster picnic was dreamed up by Jon Rowley as a homage to Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter." Rowley has left his mark on Seattle as restaurant consultant, fisherman, farmer and friend. His knowledge of culinary arts is unmatched, but moreover, it's his thrill and personal integrity that truly set him apart as a pioneer in Seattle's food scene. I wouldn't stop short of calling him a hero, but I digress.

All aboard the Oyster Bus!

The rain decided to show up around 11 p.m., which was fine as it was time for Xinh's legendary oyster stew. A little lactose intolerance didn't stop me from trying a spoonful of this delicious stew. It warmed my soul, and I could finally start feeling the tips of my frozen shucking hands again. We crowded underneath the tarp, enjoying our last sips of vino and stew.

A convivial bunch indeed, friends were made and stories swapped. Never in my life could I have imagined such an experience. Perhaps the word "magical" could be used as this simple adventure truly created a benchmark for all other experiences to be judged.

We were lulled to sleep on the bus to the sweet sounds of a Foodie Diary, and awoke as if from a dream in Seattle.

I sit here typing this with little knicks on my hands, and the feeling that I could never capture this experience in words. The next Walrus & Carpenter Low Tide Oyster Picnic comes with next winter, possibly November, and without a doubt should be on your bucket list.

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