OYSTER BOY (872 Queen West, at Massey, 416-534-3432) Casually chic shellfish shack from the folks responsible for nearby Swan. Warning: gets crowded early, and reservations are not accepted. Complete meals for $40 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Tuesday and Wednesday 5 to 11:30 pm, Thursday and Friday 5 pm to midnight, Saturday noon to midnight. Closed Sunday and Monday. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, small washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
like a lot of spots these days, Oyster Boy uses the Internet to advertise. Owned by the folks responsible for nearby uber-diner Swan, this just-opened shellfish shack plugs its Web site -- www.oysterboy.com -- on its business card and printed menu. Only problem is, no such URL currently exists.
That doesn't stop me. Being an intrepid surfer, I Google-search the words "oyster" and "boy."
Whoa! Here's what turns up: a Bakersfield, California, punk band named Oyster Boy announcing a gig at a hometown pizzeria; a short story collection titled The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy, authored by film director Tim Burton; a snapshot of a forlorn greyhound dubbed Oyster Boy, an also-ran in last year's Dutch Derby; the e-mail address of heavy metalurgists Blue Oyster Cult (oysterboy@aol. com); and a DIY porn site called, ahem, Oyster Boy's Thumb.
Everything but the Oyster Boy.
The real thing can be found on Queen West, but the Literary Device has trouble locating it. She bikes by twice as I watch through the venetian blinded front window from my longlegged chair at an equally tall, bare wooden table.
Her innate sense of misdirection gives me plenty of time to check out Oyster Boy's classy swellegance: cool blue walls, a lengthy bar offset by a blue-and-white backsplash, framed maps 'n' snaps reinforcing the down- east vibe, Stompin' Tom and Hank Snow on the CD player. Exhausted, she eventually stumbles in.
Since Oyster Boy bills itself as a raw oyster bar, we start with a selection of molluscs on the half-shell -- plump, briny Malpeques that dissolve in the mouth, equally rich yet subtle species from Wallace Bay, Nova Scotia, and Cape Bretton's Bras d'Or Lake and tiny, shallow-cupped Belons that pack a punch, considering their size ($1.50 to $2.75 each). And though there's an array of condiments -- mild ketchup and horseradish, minced shallots in red-wine vinegar, dumbed-down Aunt May's Bajan pepper sauce, potent vodka with chilies -- none are needed. A simple squeeze of lemon brings out the best in 'em.
The perfect drink to accompany oysters is champagne, but since Oyster Boy attempts to be an affordable eatery, champers isn't available. Instead, we make do with a reasonably priced light-bodied Riesling (99 Henry of Pelham Reserve, $5.50 glass/$22 bottle) that approximates the effect of bubbly.
After the raw molluscs, Oyster Boy's menu is hit-and-miss. Sided with a superb apple, daikon,cabbage and carrot slaw -- as are many mains -- beer-battered halibut and chips ($10.95) easily satisfies but doesn't match that of Harbord Fish & Chips.
Crab Louie Salad ($9.95), a big-enough-for-two portion of shredded crab in thin mayo over Boston lettuce, gets described in the menu as "classic." So where's the sliced hard-boiled egg the recipe requires?
Boston-style chowder is a butter-rich, milky broth brimming with tasty clams, cubed potatoes, celery, carrot and onion.
But there's definitely something wrong with chilled tomato and fennel soup garnished with tuna tartare and basil chiffonade (both $4.95). When I ask what the unusual, metallic flavour is, I'm told it's fennel. It remains half-finished.
A garden-variety salad of mesclun ($4.25) topped with an under-powered blue poppy seed dressing has me singing the blues. It's all right, but more cheese, please.
Of all the mains, firm monkfish nuggets braised with oysters ($13.95) as well as carrots and porcini and oyster mushrooms in a marvellous red wine reduction impresses. But lobster roll ($15.95) needs a thicker mayo to keep this delish 'swich from falling apart over a mound of adequate fries (Bellevue Diner's are far superior).
And while it looks good on paper, seafood pot pie ($12.95) offers little comfort. It's an unfortunate pairing of smoked salmon and too-salty (ahoy, mateys!) sauce under a puff-pastry lid.
A starter of five stone-cold shrimp on a skewer next to retro 50s-style cocktail sauce recalls the Howard Johnson cliché, while three mussel-and-clam fritters could be best described as leaden, fish-ish falafels (both $7.95). The two aps get a needed kick from Oyster Boy's great coleslaw.
The sole dessert is a delicious bowl of local berries with a topknot of whipped cream ($4.95).
Stick to the raw stuff.