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Live Dangerously. Eat the Shellfish

Life is full of searching. You usually dig through a lot of sand before you find that buried treasure. You gotta kiss a few frogs. Whatever.
Last summer, I interned at a nonprofit company. It was a friendly, quirky and beautiful office driven towards causes that I believed in too. For the first time, I could really see myself in this kind of office. For the long term. Like, you know, that commitment thing.

I was excited and nervous when Office let me tag along to Get Oysters.  The oysters were only a dollar between four and six at this swanky restaurant near Office’s pad in downtown Boston. I had never tried oysters. This would be An Experience. And a damn classy one at that.

Restaurant Marliave is a short jaunt from the Park Street T stop, at 10 Bosworth Street. The main floor has a sleek yet distinctly Bostonian black-and-white look. The checkered floors, crisp tablecloths, and long black bar easily invite images of olden-time lads in suspenders in the midst of manly activities such as drinking brimming mugs of frothing ale and smoking pipes and speaking in Irish accents. (Note about the pipes: Big Tobacco is a terrible, terrible thing. Tobacco belongs in the past. And Office is all about that.)

The menu was peppered with delightful yet expensive-looking sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, meat dishes and fish. This would be one of those idyllic “get-seafood-in-Boston” types of places. The waitress listed the oyster catches of the day. Apparently, there are many different types of oysters. The waitress explained to us that certain oysters were saltier or sweeter depending on the water they had been in.

I ordered four oysters. My unpracticed palate would prove to be unable to distinguish them from one another, but they were apparently different. Now, these oysters are served uncooked. So as we waited for our cultured delicacies, the conversation naturally turned towards the historic perils of kicking back raw shellfish. In olden times, lobster and shellfish were consumed only in times of famine. Colonial Americans used to bury lobster for fertilizer. Before today’s refrigeration and regulations, consuming these sea critters could be the last thing you did. Come to think of it, it still was! The oysters had to be eaten very quickly after they had been brought in. Each oyster was another opportunity for an otherwise successful chef to end his career. In jail.

(I don’t actually know that part. I have no idea what happens if you accidentally poison someone. But it is probably dramatic and unpleasant.)

The oysters came on a metal plate of ice, accompanied by lemon slices and little cups of horseradish and cocktail sauce. These were to dollop onto the oysters, but Office seemed to prefer savoring their natural flavors. Office talked me through my first time. You gripped the oyster shell with your thumb and index finger, and then you tilted the shell into your mouth. It would be slimy, they informed me.

It was in fact slimy. It was exactly what you would expect from slurping down a small puddle of shellfish. Except I squirted some lemon on it, so there was a lemon taste.

I informed a former co-worker of mine about the experience. Here is his response, in a nutshell… or rather… an oyster shell.

“While it is true that a bad oyster can kill, I’m sure you realize your coworkers were messing with you. You’d know if an oyster was that bad, trust me. One time years ago I was working at an exclusive hotel when I passed some servers taking trays from an event, full of oysters. Not wanting to see the poor mollusks go to waste, I asked the young men if they were up for grabs. They shot me a funny look, but I was told it would be okay, so tossed back an oyster. Let me tell you, Madeline, I might not be writing you this missive today had I not such an acute gag reflex. True story.

Bad shellfish are trouble, but that’s part of the appeal. “Live dangerously, eat the oyster.”

Ain’t it true.

– Madeline Christensen

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