By Dan Hayner and Betsy Rothstein - 02/14/08 05:17 PM EST
When you read Washington menus this February, your attention will be drawn to that juicy, savory aphrodisiac — the oyster.
Valentine’s Day appetizers are intended to stimulate not just your appetite for food, and so oysters were the main attraction in many early courses across the city on Feb. 14 — whether at the casual yet elegant Café Promenade at The Mayflower Hotel or the hip Hudson Restaurant and Lounge, a newer west-end haven for diners before or after enjoying D.C. nightlife.
Whether topped with silky creams, savory caviar, sweet mignonettes or spiced oils, savor the texture and taste of this sensual favorite.
And why not impress your significant other this year with some oyster acumen? The knowledge surrounding oysters and their powers for stirring a little passion has historical roots.
Author Mark Kurlansky, in his recent book, The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, writes that Giovanni Casanova, the notorious Venetian seducer, ate 50 oysters every morning before he went to work.
Kurlansky also notes that Napoleon Bonaparte’s enemies reported that the squat French general got a boost of virility from consuming the succulent mollusks before battle, and the Romans indulged in oysters as part of their orgy fare.
Legend aside, gastronomes have naturally sought a more scientific explanation.
While the sensuality of the oyster may be attributed to its sexually provocative shape — much like pears, asparagus, eggs and artichokes — Kurlansky explains, “in modern times, it has been found that oysters are rich in zinc, one of the building blocks of testosterone.” Other reports concur that chemical compounds in oysters and other varieties of shellfish, including mussels, clams and scallops, help trigger testosterone and estrogen hormones.
Mayflower Hotel Executive Chef Norman Wade said there’s no reason to be skeptical of the oyster, which, when mishandled during warmer months, can harbor bacteria. “This is a great time of year for oysters,” he said. “The colder the month, the cleaner and more flavorful the oyster.”
The oyster remains the sultan of sensual fare.
Chocolate and Wine
Pairing wine with chocolate is all about harmony, reports Andrew Stover, the sommelier at OYA Restaurant and Lounge.
When it comes to matching the flavor of the chocolate to the flavor of the wine, “White, milk, dark and bitter chocolate all have varying degrees of flavor and intensity,” Stover says, adding that chocolate can kill a wine if not paired properly.
Stover’s rules for pairing wines with chocolate:
• Dark Chocolate (with a high cacao percentage): Look for richer, darker-flavored, bitter wines such as Shiraz, Port, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
• Milk Chocolate: The mild, buttery, creamy flavors pair well with mellow wines such as late harvest/dessert wines, ice wines, Moscato d’Asti, semi-sweet sparkling wines, Demi-Sec champagnes, Banyuls (fortified dessert wine from the south of France), and Malmsey Madeira (Port-style wine from the island of Madeira, Portugal).
Choices: Gruet Demi-Sec Sparkling from New Mexico ($12), Paolo Saracco Moscato d’Asti from Italy ($15), and especially the M. Lawrence “Sex” Sparkling Rosé from Michigan ($14, from www.lmawby.com).
• White Chocolate: The very mild, buttery, creamy taste matches best with late harvest/ice wines.
Choices: Santa Julia Tardio Dessert Wine from Argentina ($12); Paolo Saracco Moscato d’Asti from Italy ($15).
OYA recommends their dessert, Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate — a thin dark-chocolate shell filled with milk chocolate mousse set on a hazelnut biscuit with drizzles of white chocolate. Stover says it’s best paired with the Santa Julia Tardio dessert wine or the Trevor Jones “Jonesy” Tawny Port from Australia.