Let's just say that Botticelli's The Birth of Venus wasn't just about a lady standing in a shell.
We live in a world of chemical interactions. Some are mundane: Headaches are soothed by aspirin. Others are more exotic: seafood and citrus juice results in ceviche.
But many, it seems, are now more pharmaceutical than anything else. Side effects of certain anticoagulants might be excess bleeding. Medications designed to reduce symptoms of restless leg syndrome can lead to an increase in gambling or impulsive sexual behavior. Contact your doctor of condition persists for more than four hours. You get the drift.
(And welcome, by the way, to the fine line, trod by semi-autobiographical writers, between candor and over-exposure. You try writing an article on a known aphrodisiac for a Valentine's Day story without weirding out your friends and loved ones.)
Where, then, do we pigeonhole the alleged chemical interactions? St. John's wort cures depression. Echinacea stymies the common cold. Oysters...well, oysters make you more sociable.
I can't speak to the first two; I've never bought in to that brand of homeopathy. The third, however, is intriguing.
First, a word of warning. We can talk all we want about chemicals and endorphins and pheromones; all indications are that the primary reason oysters have been thought of as aphrodisiacs is very junior-high. They bear a visual similarity to a very particular landmark on the map of the female anatomy. Let's just say that Botticelli's The Birth of Venus wasn't just about a lady standing in a shell.
Phosphorous. Zinc. Amino acids. You want 'em, oysters got 'em. And depending on who you ask, any or all of these are the trigger for romance. Others lean away from the chemical, highlighting instead the tactile; raw oysters are eaten by hand, on the half-shell. Everyone knows that playing with your food always leads to trouble.
It is just as well, then, that I ended up eating oysters alone, sharing steady company with the bartender at Restaurant Magnus. Less trouble that way. Props where they're due: said bartender, Brian, was very friendly and helpful to a first-time oyster eater like me.
Magnus offers two varieties of oyster right now: Penn Cove and Imperial Eagle. They're both Pacific oysters, with the Imperial being a little larger than the Penn. They run $2.50 per oyster (Ocean Grill, The Blue Marlin, Mad City Crab House and Captain Bill's offer them for anywhere from $1.42 to $2 each), and share the plate with a very tasty ponzu-jalapeño vinaigrette. Tasty enough, in fact, that I ate a few spoonfuls solo after my oysters were gone.
I decided, after settling the bill, that I would have been either gluttonous or exceptionally poseur-ish to use up the generous portion of vinaigrette I was given. Strictly speaking, the oysters required none; they were very tender and neither chewy nor slimy. I can see how some people down them by the dozen; if not for budgeting and a sick fiancée at home, I might have engorged myself.
Yes, they were that good. The first plate, featuring two of each variety, easily defeated my original plan to have four and leave. In my conversation with Brian, I was told that Magnus gets smaller shipments of oysters two to three times per week. Other eateries named above get their shipments six days a week, but properly stored, oysters are still just fine a couple days after harvest.
It's possible that I was nearing the bottom of the net, so to speak, by 7 p.m. on Sunday. My first plate was excellent. The second plate, which was apparently populated solely by Penn Coves, was a little skimpier on the oyster meat, and perhaps too generous with the sand and grit. Regardless, the taste remained the same.
When discussing this meal with a friend from Seattle, I was gently ribbed for what must have been, she said, an ancient supply of Wisconsin oysters. "The only proper way to ferry oysters," she said, "is via Radio Flyer." West Coast snobbery aside, I felt the warmth of memories of Pacific Northwest seafood while sitting at the bar in a Midwestern restaurant.
You may be wondering (although I don't know why, ain't none of your business) when my account of eating raw oysters will veer into more amorous territory. I'll have you know that the importance of attending to the aforementioned sick fiancée trumped any attempts to foist some icthyine-inspired lust upon her.
But heading to bed that night, just before nodding off, I thought I saw eight little shells, jawing like Señor Wences' friend Johnny, sitting on the footboard, asking me, "we got shucked for this?" Sorry, boys. Maybe next Valentine's Day.