If you sit toward the center of the spacious Blueacre Seafood dining room, you get the feeling you're watching a giant aquarium: the windows that look into the kitchen are tinted blue, so the servers picking up orders at the pass, and the cooks behind the pass, all resemble exotic creatures of the sea. A steady steam of conventioneers and downtown shoppers Sunday night were tucking into Dungeness crab cakes, Alaska halibut, Hawaiian tuna, Neah Bay salmon, Oregon rockfish. Totten Inlet mussels, Maine lobster. All from American waters. Exec Chef Kevin Davis grew up in Louisiana, where his father worked for Shell, and he has a passionate belief in sustainable domestic seafood.
Before moving to Seattle, Davis was the exec chef at Arnaud's, a temple of gastronomy in Nawlins. He also knows where to find the hidden gems of the American South. Which is how Oysters Mosca got on the menu over the weekend at Blueacre.
Now, no one who's been there would describe Mosca's as anything more than a Louisiana roadhouse. It's a cramped, 66-year-old, cash-only clapboard inn half an hour from the Vieux Carré in a swampy town called Avondale on the west bank of the Mississippi River, where everything "tastes like 1946." Not that it's a bad thing, far from it. But Commander's Palace it ain't.
So why would Blueacre, with its sleek lines and polished service, put a dish from Mosca's on the menu? Ah, because Oysters Mosca has become an icon. (You can read the stories on the Mosca website.) A lot of the fried, baked and otherwise cooked oyster dishes on today's restaurant menus come from the Creole tradition, where they were designed to add flavor and texture to the otherwise bland warm-water oysters of the Gulf of Mexico. (In fact, this weekend's news includes reports of oysters dying in the Gulf because of increased salinity and higher temperatures.) Here in Washington State, surrounded by relatively cold and clean ocean waters with strong tides and shallow coves and inlets, there's a thriving shellfish industry and an eager market for fresh oysters.
Other parts of the country aren't quite as fortunate, hence recipes like Oyster Rockefeller (baked with creamed spinach), Oysters Bienville (baked with sherry-flavored bechamel), Oysters Casino (baked with bacon). And Oysters Mosca, created at Mosca's many decades ago: baked with seasoned breadcrumbs.
They were on the Blueacre menu as an appetizer special ($10.95) this past weekend, and could well return. We watched one of the line cooks, Taylor Smith, place half a dozen shucked Penn Cove oysters in a room-temperature, cast-iron skillet, top them with the Parmesan-butter-garlic breadcrumbs and slide them into a 500-degree oven. Ten minutes later, the dish was served. Quite tasty, though the preparation might perhaps be better-suited to a larger, blander oyster.
Still, the Oysters Mosca make for a terrific story (moonshine, gambling, Al Capone, roadhouse in bayou country), and that's important for a Seattle restaurant that serves dinner to a parade of out-of-towners. Not everyone may enjoy oysters on the half-shell, but everyone wants a good story.
Oh, happy ending: just learned that Blueacre sold over four dozen orders of Oysters Mosca over the weekend, enough to give the kitchen the confidence to keep it on the menu through rest of the week.