Gift from the Sea

The New York Times travel section got all gourmet this weekend, and among the articles on avant-German cuisine and people in San Francisco not eating animals in yet more interesting ways, restaurant critic Frank Bruni gets out of Manhattan—way out. Prince Edward Island, the small Canadian island that floats north of Nova Scotia, is famous for its shellfish, especially oysters and mussels: Someone Bruni identifies, somewhat strangely, as a “shellfish shaman” calls PEI “the Cognac of shellfish-growing regions.”

Bruni gorges himself on PEI’s mussels, which acquire “their robust flavor and plumpness” from the rich plankton in the cold waters. But the island’s oysters are even better known, although that’s partly because oysters are always described by their origin whereas mussels are sold and eaten anonymously. Bruni raves about PEI’s oysters—“salty, silky perfection” he writes about an oyster he raked off the bottom himself—but if you want the official, impossible-to-best description of PEI oysters in all their wondrous variety, look in Rowan Jacobsen’s extraordinary book, A Geography of Oysters. CHOW ran an excerpt of this marvelous work a few months ago; from that, here’s Jacobsen’s description of PEI’s Colville Bay oyster:

Light is a term often ascribed to PEI oysters. Sometimes it’s a negative, indicating a lack of body and flavor. Sometimes, as with Colville Bays, it means transcendent. Colville Bays have plenty of body but also an addictive lemon-zest brightness. They are the oyster most likely to make you order another dozen. The dusky jade shells, when piled high, achieve the luminosity of moss on a rain-forest stump.

An essential nonedible note: PEI is probably best known as the setting of the book Anne of Green Gables, which has a fanatical following in Japan. As Bruni writes, “Young Japanese couples have civil wedding ceremonies at the house, while Japanese girls have been known to show up there with their hair dyed red and braided into pigtails, just like Anne’s.”