We hear a lot about the great social mobility in America, with the focus usually on the comparative ease of moving upwards. What’s less discussed is how easy it is to go down. I think that’s the direction that we’re all heading in. And I think that the downward fall is going to be very fast—not just for us as individuals—but for the entire Preppie Class.
–Charlie Black, Metropolitan
Is it weird that the Nineties have been on my mind quite a bit lately? Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’ve been researching trends as part of my job for the last few months, but quoting Reality Bites and Clueless has come up more often than normal for me (oh, who am I kidding–I always quote Clueless). When I was making my little wishlist on Amazon of various media I craved a few months ago for the holidays, the film Metropolitan called to me from my big master wishlist (yes I have one, mock me if you must) as something that I had to get and watch and fall in love with. After reading on Criterion’s website that it’s another perfect modern-day take on Jane Austen in the vein of aforementioned Clueless, albeit more verbose and less Valley Girl, I had to see it–and I must say that it takes on what’s arguably considered the least-loved of Austen’s novels, Mansfield Park, and modernizes it in a way that’s credible, funny, and true to all of the characters contained therein.
Also: the characters visit an Horn & Hardart automat towards the end of the film. Automats were dying out by the 80s, but a small few clung on in New York until the last one shuttered in 1991, a year after this film was released. It’s such an anachronistic touch; the only other time I’ve personally seen an automat referenced on film was in That Touch of Mink from 1962.
Long-dead restaurant concept references aside, Metropolitan‘s delightfully cynical tone was a perfect pairing with one of the dishes that the characters likely feasted on in spades during all of the debutante-related parties they went to in the course of the story: oysters.
Oysters are one of those things that we love, but have only enjoyed in restaurants (and until we went to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central, it was usually at company holiday parties; seldom did we ever think to get them for ourselves). We always entertained the idea of getting some ourselves and enjoying them at home…but even Fairway had fairly steep prices per oyster (99 cents each) that made us hesitant. A trip to Sea Breeze, then, was in order to see if we could do any better, and look: a dozen oysters ran 8 bucks, so we naturally asked for two. Twenty-four oysters for $16? That was no offer we could ever refuse.
Of course, I insisted that we needed an oyster knife to properly shuck these guys and Michael retorted that we could use one of our knives at home, because our plans were to go straight home from the fishmonger and then out again to our Fairway to gather the other groceries we needed, and a stop at the Columbus Circle Williams-Sonoma was not directly on our way (at least in Michael’s mind). After a good fifteen minutes of arguing the merits of getting a specific oyster knife or not, I ended up offering to go to the store myself (the A stops there as well as the 1) while Michael took the express home, and then I told him I’d meet him at the 125th St. 1 stop en route to Fairway. I’m glad I won this one: shucking oysters can be a downright difficult business, and you need an implement that’s specifically designed to maximize your leverage as you try to pry apart the shells–I’m pretty sure at least one of our knives would have been broken by the time the twenty four were devoured had Michael had his way.
Cutlery arguments aside, it was a lot of fun (if quite a bit of work) to shuck through the lot of them, but once they were arranged on plates, given a good squeeze of Meyer lemon, some shakes of Frank’s Red Hot and a dollop of homemade horseradish, we couldn’t slurp them down fast enough.
Intrigued by the prospect of homemade horseradish, are you? Well, I’ll let Michael take the reigns on that topic:
About a month after we moved to New York, a friend took us to a sake bar on the Lower East Side. While I didn’t love the sake so much, the sinus-searing horseradish chicken dumplings we snacked on were absolutely amazing. Since then I have been on a quest to capture that perfection again, chasing the horseradish dragon across the city. In most applications (burgers, sauces) it’s too bland or it’s combined with something else to reach its full potential. Recently, at Whole Foods, Westside Market and other places have started carrying actual horseradish roots, so naturally I bought a couple, but too intimidated/busy to figure them out, several went belly-up before I figured them out. Saturday evening I decided to finally make it happen, so I cut off the bark and shredded the entire root with my box grater. I added an ice cube to preserve the sting, some white vinegar and salt and that was that. After a while I pureed everything with my stick blender to make a give it a more usable texture. It’s tart and salty and burns with the a supremely sublime fire behind your nose and eyes after you down a nice dollop on something. The flavor will fade with time, so over the next weeks, I’ll be looking for more and different ways to get this delightful firestarter into dishes before it fizzles out.