Lukewarm-ick’s. Has a nice—by which I mean “mean”—ring, no? But “nice” by which I mean “mean” doesn’t mean “entirely true.” The truth is McCormick’s runs the gamut from all-out eww to eh to full-on aah! & back again. So I resisted the temptation to title this post thuswise (if not to use the word “thuswise.” Such a logobimbo). After all, McCormick’s own site gave me all the opportunity for snark I ever seek by quoting some glowing review that appeared in the New York Times Travel Section…when? When was McCormick’s ever “one of the city’s best restaurants”? Thirty years ago when Lodo was a war zone? The best restaurant in a war zone is a non-bombed-out restaurant. “Best” in that wise just means “open.”
Mind you, I don’t actually know how long McCormick’s has been in Denver (feel free to fill me in). I only know that as early as the mid-1970s, McCormick merged with Schmick out in Portland, OR, to forge the links in today’s coast-to-coast chain known by both names; hence the assumption that the one-name outlets must be older. I also know, as a former Bostonian, how much flak said chain aptly took for moving in on Legal Sea Foods’ turf when it opened back east. Sure, Legal’s a franchise too, but you gotta hand it to any fishhouse that opens a branch within spitting distance of an aquarium. That takes whale balls.**)
So I’ve long held a grudge against McCormick, with or without Schmick.
Nevertheless, since I had no choice but to hit it recently for reasons that shall be made clear over at Denver Six Shooter come June 16, I figured I might as well give it its fair full-body shake—starting, natch, with the raw bar.
Which brings us to lukewarmth.
New to me when I ordered them (perhaps because they’re West Coasters, from Belfair, WA), these little guys promptly shot all the way up in my esteem to the level of Wellfleets & Tatmagouches. Not only do they sound like robot parts, & not only are their shells (like those of most oysters, granted) way sci-fi,
but their flavor is among the most purely sealike any creature ever captured. And I don’t mean briny & I do mean sealike—blue-green & clean.
The quick, simple downside: they weren’t fully shucked; the adductor muscle was still attached to the shell. Hey, line guy, if I have to do half the work myself, I want my cut. Pony up.
Though they weren’t especially strong, & though I wasn’t holding my breath that the mix was housemade, a couple of spicy bloodies nonetheless took the edge off of my annoyance.
So did the especially attentive, blond-ponytailed slip of a server who brought them, a pro beyond her years. Wish I’d gotten her name. (UPDATE: Just saw it on the receipt—Jamie.) Above all, she accommodated us in the transition between breakfast & lunch service, as the Director ordered the former & I the latter.
His Southwest skillet was the high point, a not-too-greasy spillage of chorizo & cheddar, spuds & jack, & peppers & onions alongside pico de gallo, a thoughtful wedge of lime, & griddled tortillas—all topped with the over-easy…oval? ovate? ovoid? oviparous?…eggy ideal.
But the oyster stew, after the first blush, was sad & blue.
Looks delish, eh? Especially when you dip in your spoon to dredge up a humdinger of a Hama Hama.
But it wasn’t delish by a long shot. The chef’s intentions were clearly good insofar as the broth was very simple—just milk (I doubt there was more than a drop, if that, of cream), butter, parsley &, presumably, oyster liquor. The chef’s execution was noticeably bad insofar as the broth was very simple—Hama Hamas are mild, their liquor virtually undetectable in the context of other ingredients without sufficient S&P to bring it out. I was pretty much slurping up diluted milk until I seasoned it myself.
Oh, & also until the bile started seeping in.
In my nearly 40 years I’ve downed 100s upon 100s of oysters—& never, ever, had I seen the likes of this. I didn’t even know oysters had livers.
Googling “oyster liver” later, I found this in a passage from a shucking primer at Oysters.us:
“Extra care must be taken not to damage the tender meat. The oyster’s liver is located just ahead of the hinge (located right at the opposite end of the little pointer). It is particularly vulnerable and will end up looking like a big greenish-brown spot if its mantle layer is damaged by the knife….Although such damage has no effect at all on the taste of the oyster meat, it just looks bad. I’ve heard novices ask ‘Eeeew. Is that oyster poop?’ when they see that spot. If you are serving lots of oysters with damaged livers to connoisseurs, they may not comment on it, but will certainly notice.”
I noticed. Not 1 but 2 of the 3 oysters in my bowl were thuswise mangled.
In the end, then, Denveater’s gotta give McCormick’s, at least when it comes to their supposed specialty, the thumbs down…& hence The Gray Lady the smackdown.
Which actually, for a writer filled herself with bitter, bitter bile, feels pretty sweet.
**Search here for the word “testes” and prepare to stagger.