Photo from Formerchef.com
“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” Jonathan Swift
While I will most certainly indulge in many a barbecue during these precious few warm months that we get in Ohio, this summer I’m on a mission to find the perfect oysters—and oyster-eating experience—in Cleveland. I realize that oyster season is technically over, but, for me, enjoying oysters on a pretty patio somewhere with champagne or a really good beer says “summer.” Actually, it says “awesome summer.” And with modern aquaculture, it seems one can still get decent oysters even in the off-season. Besides, who really wants to eat oysters in the winter? And now that we are full-fledged into summer, so begins the quest for the perfect oyster experience.
I am still a newbie to the wonderful world of oysters, having just been properly introduced to them last summer (well, there was that one awful time in Florida many years back, which did NOT turn out to be an awesome oyster experience…but that’s a story for another time). So, I am learning the differences between east coast and west coast oysters, briny verses buttery taste, soft verses firm texture, what to serve with them and all that. My oyster journey is not just about critiquing the prowess of the restaurants around town in choosing or serving great oysters. Taste, of course, always matters. It is also an educational process for myself, so staff helpfulness will matter quite a lot to me. And I’m a nut when it comes to my surroundings, so ambiance also always matters. I will keep you posted on my progress, and please, if you have any suggestions, feel welcome to chime in.
Anyway, this past weekend began the oyster journey. The friend who really introduced me to oysters told me about a place that had been evidently getting rave reviews. I was in the mood to try something new, it was a gorgeous summer evening, the place had a patio for sitting outside and…it served oysters.
Well, it served oysters and pastries.
That’s not a typo. Oysters and pastries. The name? Coquette Patisserie and it specializes in delicate, pretty little pastries…and oysters. For my French amis out there, I realize this is not traditional for a patisserie, but then, this is America. And we seem to do what we want.
Given that my friend and I were going to a French pastry shop and planned to sit outside, I had envisioned a lovely patio with pretty little tables and flowers all around. Maybe an awning or some umbrellas to provide shade from the bright sun. However, what I found is that Coquette Patisserie, which is located at 11607 Euclid Avenue in University Circle, is an area with a more urban, modern look and feel to it. It didn’t help that there is construction going on right across the street, killing my vision of a pretty little French street scene.
My friend and I arrived around 7:30 p.m. to a nearly empty place. This was concerning, as it’s prime time for dining in Cleveland. But then, it is primarily a patisserie in University Circle, so maybe its principal clientele is the morning pastry/late night dessert sort. I hope so, as I love the idea of a French patisserie in Cleveland. I, however, was here for oysters…oooohhh and champagne, of which they had several varieties.
The inside of Coquette Patisserie was more modern than I had anticipated for a patisserie, but was nice with lots of windows and art on the walls. The display case held even more beautiful little works of art, which turned out to be the sweet creations the place has become known for. Macarons, tarts and little cakes adorned the case shelves, flirting with customers and seeking to be admired as much as eaten. I decided then that, whatever the oyster experience here was to be, I would be returning another day on a whole new journey.
The staff was friendly, though I’m not sure they are as familiar with oysters as they are with pastries, because they seemed unsure about whether they were more salty or briny in taste and demonstrated the size of them by the shell, rather than the meat. Still, they seemed to be trying, so they get points for caring. That evening, I was told, they were serving Sun Hollow oysters, from South Hood Canal in Washington state, so my friend and I ordered a dozen of them, along with two glasses of Gaston Chiquet, and sat at a table outside.
I’ve already mentioned that the patio did not provide the ambiance that I was hoping for. I did not want to eat oysters inside, as that seems completely wrong to me. And on a beautiful night like Friday, I wasn’t about to sit inside anywhere. The building, itself, is some shade of tan or other and the base of the patio is cement, so it’s quite a light space, particularly with the sun shining down on everything. At either end of the enclosed rectangular patio are picnic tables, which seemed a strange thing for a French pastry shop, along with maybe six-to-eight tiny, round, metal tables with delicate little metal chairs. A couple of times I was concerned that I would either tip my chair over or knock over the table (I’ve mentioned before that I’m not so graceful, yes?). There were no flowers or other plants, save for a few table-top plants that took up too much of the already-tiny table space. There was also no awning and no umbrellas to block the sun, so the entire space seemed bare, hot and bright. For me, not the ideal environment for enjoyment of oysters or the outdoors.
However, we sat at a table and sipped our Gaston Chiquet, which was tres yum! When the oysters arrived at our table, they were served with lemon wedges and a mignonette sauce. Mignonette, which is typically made with vinegar, shallots and cracked pepper is, from what I understand, supposed to pair well with the brininess of certain oysters, or some such thing, but I’m not really sure. All I really know is that it was delightful, and I will admit to sipping just a bit of the sauce when my friend wasn’t looking. You know…in the interest of writing a helpful blog article. Ahem.
We squeezed lemon juice on the oysters and began eating. The oysters were small-to-medium in size and softer in texture, and had a taste that was mildly briny. They did not have horseradish or hot sauce, which I have come to enjoy with oysters, but the mignonette was certainly a nice accompaniment to them. My friend and I shared a third glass of champagne–you know…to balance out the oysters—and savored every bite.
Sharing oysters and champagne outside on a beautiful Friday in June was a truly lovely way to spend a summer evening. While I wouldn’t say these were the best oysters I’ve eaten or that this was the best place I’ve eaten them, yet, my first experience at Coquette Patisserie was very nice. Personally, the experience would be better if they made the outdoor seating a bit more pleasant, but the lack of greenery and shade will not prevent me from returning. Especially if a Chocolate Triomphe or Le Bonbon is on the agenda.
But for now, the quest continues. © Racheal Lee Bradford