Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rodney's Oyster Saloon: Shucking on Temperance

Rodney 'The Oysterman' Clark, has presented and celebrated oysters in downtown Toronto for over twenty years. He's known as the ‘Messiah of the Mollusk,' who ate his first Malpeque at age two, shucked his first oyster shortly afterwards, and has spent nearly three decades helping Canadians unlock the succulent secrets of shellfish. After spending five years honing his skills with the big guy at Rodney's Oyster Bar on King Street, John Belknap decided to open his own bivalve venue three years ago, and together with Chef Sonia Potichnyj, embarked on a voyage to realize their vision of an elegant yet rustic oyster house. Formerly an open-air carport, Rodney’s Oyster Saloon by Bay is tucked into a small space on Temperance Street, in the heart of the financial district. "Oyster bars are traditionally out of the way and hard to find," says Belknap. "I wanted to keep that feeling." 

Rodney's menu of fish house classics turned up a notch

And they're doing just that, enticing both Bay Street rollers and downtown denizens alike, into this warm and friendly side street gem. Designed by Brad Denton, who also styled the interiors of Le Petit Castor, Harbord Room and Czehoski, Rodney's decor strives to capture both urban cool and East Coast charm. Salvaged antique wainscotting, tin ceiling panels and parts of an 1890s building façade add warmth to this tiny room, with a central white marble bar, polished concrete floors, sleek banquettes and cozy wooden tables. The space is absolutely charming, but it's the oysters that reel in the customers. 

Mark Moore - shucker extraordinaire 

Although not actually affiliated with Rodney's Oyster Bar, the oysters at RBB are just as fresh, plentiful and delicious, and shucked expertly by the very knowledgable and affable Mark Moore. I'm so pleased that we chose to sit at the bar so that we had an opportunity to chat with Mark and learn more about oysters, the Digby Scallop Festival in Nova Scotia and the Southern Ontario Oyster Shucking Championships that take place every summer at Rodney's on King Street West. $30 gets you in the door with tickets for 2 beers and 6 oysters. At last year's event, there were 900 people, 35 shuckers, 9 beer reps, wines from Cave Springs, lobster, chili, fried clams, and plenty of live music. I know where I'm going to be.

The daily selection of fresh oysters are highlighted on a central chalkboard

Rodney's offers a selection of five to ten different oysters daily, many drawn from their own beds in P.E.I., as well as the West Coast and abroad, with offerings that might include Merigomish from Nova Scotia, Rappahannock from Virginia, Totten from Washington, Kumamoto from Japan and Mystic from Connecticut. But with the oysters going for an average of $3, it quickly adds up to $36 per dozen. Inhale a dozen or two oysters, add a bottle of wine, and you can easily spend $200 for two. It's worth it.

A dozen fresh and fabulous oysters shucked by Mark: 
4 Village Bay from Nova Scotia, 4 Chef's Creek from BC, 4 Raspberry Point from PEI and 
2 Little Neck Clams from Wallace Bay, Nova Scotia

Rodney's homemade sauces for those who like their oysters with a little zing

Chef Sonia Potichnyj, former chef and co-owner of the Bloor West favourite Lemon Meringue, has taken Rodney's coastal eats upmarket with a menu of upscale fish house classics such as Willy Krauch Smoked Salmon with cream cheese, onions, capers and chili jelly; Trio of Tuna Tartares with soba noodles and a miso vinaigrette; and the ever-popular New England Clam Chowder. Mains include classic Fish & Chips made with Gritstone beer battered Nova Scotia wild haddock and served with house-cut frites and coleslaw with a lovely housemade tartare sauce; Braised Lamb Shanks with parsnip yukon purée and honey roasted heirloom carrots; Pistachio Herb Crusted Wild Pacific Halibut with spiced cauliflower purée and onion bhajis; and outstanding Seared Sea Scallops, perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious, with silky smooth butternut squash purée, sautéed brussel sprouts with roasted chestnuts and a sweet and smokey caramelized hickory bacon confit. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a scallop dish more.

Nova Scotia Wild Haddock Fish and Chips

Seared Sea Scallops with butternut squash purée, sautéed brussel sprouts and 
roasted chestnuts with a caramelized hickory bacon confit

Rodney's by Bay is a little gem and a great spot to sit back, relax and enjoy a dozen oysters, a bottle of wine and a fabulous meal. It's also conveniently located near the COC, which is where we were headed after dinner to see one of the best-loved operas of all time — Tosca — Puccini’s tale of a passionate woman caught in a web of corruption, lust, and betrayal as she navigates a twisted path through the beautiful and dangerous world of 19th-century Rome. What better way to prepare ourselves for this emotional onslaught, than with a dozen oysters, a delicious dinner and a bottle of Muscadet! Then the bill arrived and we had to dash. Aw shucks, and we were just getting started. 

Adrianne Pieczonka plays Tosca in this evening's performance

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