An incurable lover of all things bivalve (and mollusk), the Hired Belly has long lamented Vancouver's failure to widely celebrate what it obviously should: the Pacific oyster. We're not just talking about the occasional nod here but actually embracing this quintessentially local shellfish-and the role it's played in various cultures over the years.
In 19th -century Europe, the oyster was a staple. So much so that in this part of the world, some had them shipped on ice to the Cariboo gold fields. First Nations harvested them for millennia-usually with a whole lot more respect than most newcomers have shown.
All this is by way of a heads-up that our neglected bivalve may finally be gaining ground, most notably with the recent arrival of Oyster Express (296 Keefer St., 604684-3300), a one stop oysterlover's haven at the corner of Keefer and Gore.
Owner Shawn Chesney (ex-Rodney's Vancouver, competitive shucker) and partner Soran Im started to transform this former corner store back in the spring.
The new space is simple, clad in pine with functional dark wood chairs and cleverly picked bric-a-brac. Two focal points dominate: the busy oyster bar (where the owners are constantly shucking or plating) and distinctive round windows that convey a gentle nautical theme.
What's been wrought is a breath of fresh air that's an entirely appropriate match for the business at hand. Adding to the open feel is an iron bar gate, right beside the kitchen, through which passersby can see what's happening and say "hi," which they frequently do.
Chesney knows his oysters, which isn't surprising, given he's been at this for over a decade. No surprise, also, that he's already building a solid fan base.
When we visited, he was busy setting out the day's "catch" (everything comes in fresh daily), which usually tops 10 or more varieties, ranging from immediate locals such as Effingham, Okeover Inlet and Fanny Bay to Pacific Virginica (Hood Canal) or Village Bay (New Brunswick).
You can pick from whatever is on ice ($1.50-$3.50), shucked to order and served with fresh lemon, mignonette and copious amount of freshly grated horseradish. Offerings also include a daily oyster special (it wasn't tough to fall for the Miyagi, $1.50), as well as Buck-a-Shuck Happy Hour Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m.
Beyond oysters is a good selection of house-made plates, such as chili and cornbread, steamed mussels, a house salad, desserts, smoothies and coffees and teas, including home-brewed pomegranate and ginger. While the soaring mercury tempted us towards curry and wild rice (veggie with optional chicken or prawn), we fell for the shrimp cocktail, a classic presentation of seven, ultra plump, peeled and perfectly textured, chilled crustaceans arranged around zesty and fresh seafood sauce ($12).
Oyster Express works, above all, because it delivers what it promises. It's a simple concept but one executed by folks who know how and where to buy-and keep everything at its freshest-without too many detours. All that's missing is a liquor license to enable a few crisp, dry whites or good local ale to go along. And that should be arriving soon.
See you there! (Courier reviews are conducted anonymously at our own expense.)
. Babich Sauvignon Blanc 2011: From one of New Zealand's wine families comes this drop with definite gooseberry notes before a juicy, intense, grassy, citrus and slightly tropical palate. BCLS $19.75/90 points. Food match: Oysters.