872 Queen Street West
Dinner for two with wine or beer, plus all taxes and tip: $100
I’ve never been a fan of claiming you know about something because you’ve lived in close proximity to where it became popular. I once worked as a barista in a tourist area where a customer dissed my cappuccino because, “we’re from Seattle, so, you know, we KNOW coffee.” Apparently just by standing in the original Starbucks people are able to absorb absolutely everything there is to know about the beans, the production and the roasting of coffee. The same goes for people who have lived in London, England, and claim an expert-level knowledge of Indian food.
So it makes me feel like a bit of a hypocrite to write a review of a seafood restaurant and pull out the old “I’m from Nova Scotia, so I know seafood” line, but if the cliché fits, you’ve got to wear it. See, we made two visits to Oyster Boy on Queen Street West; one with another Bluenoser who had a similar opinion of the food, and once with some friends from Moscow for whom many of the dishes on the menu were a completely new experience. Seafood appears to be a matter of perspective.
Oysters, of course, are what most people come here for, and Oyster Boy offers about a half dozen different kinds at market price. On our first visit we split a dozen PEI Malpeques for $21, and on the second visit shared a dozen Malpeques and Caraquets from New Brunswick. Both were delicious, but I’m a Malpeque girl, it seems – I like my oysters unadorned and tasting like a fresh gust of salty ocean air. To my taste, the Caraquets were too briny, and actually needed the variety of sauces and garnishes to be palatable.
The baked oysters (6 for $18) come in a variety of flavours, and the famous Rockerfeller version are indeed delicious, but the toppings really detracted from the flavour of the oysters. Not to mention the fact that the oysters themselves shrunk up in the heat, so it was mostly a mouthful of spinach, fennel and cream. I know it’s a classic dish, but what a waste of a good oyster!
The Maritime fish cakes ($11.95) are almost too much like Mom would make; lots of potatoes, a little bit of salt cod, not a whole lot of flavour. As a kid I hated this poor folks’ staple so much that I once refused to eat it, and was left at the dinner table for hours in the dark until finally my father caved and never forced me to eat them again. I like fish cakes now as a grown-up, but these were just too reminiscent of those bland, unappetizing cakes that were forced upon me when my folks were tight on cash.
Greg’s Dad, who lives in Summerside, PEI, cooks up some mean fried oysters that would, I’m sorry to say, put the deep fried oysters ($10.95) at Oyster Boy to shame. Served with a mound of the house slaw with apple ($2.95 as a side order), the four oysters were big and overly greasy on our first visit, and crisp but small on the second.
To sample a cross-section of what the kitchen had on offer, we opted for the Seafood Platter ($24.95) which was a massive selection of salmon croquettes, fried haddock, crab salad and a shrimp hummus. Maybe because there were no down-home dishes to compare these items to, they all fared well in terms of flavour, and the presentation was quite striking. The haddock was generous chunks of fillet, lightly battered, the croquettes were a smooth purée of salmon, also battered and fried. Crab salad was the only slight miss, as it was sweet but bland and needed some kick. The hummus with shrimp made up for this with a really flavourful blend of shrimp and chickpeas. We were worried about this at first, but it turned out to be the highlight of the platter. The seafood platter was by far more food than one person could comfortably have eaten so we were glad we had opted to share a selection of plates.
House fries with flavoured mayo ($4.50) were actually one of the things I’d go back for – the huge basket was full of crisp, flavourful frites, and the accompanying mayo (choice of grainy mustard, jalapeño and lime or chipotle) had a decent kick.
Desserts were good but not mind-blowing. Both options, a lemon pot du crème topped with blueberries or a cinnamon-spiked chocolate mousse ($5.95 each) were tasty, but were missing that Down East vibe. If you’re following up a seafood dinner with blueberries, it absolutely has to be blueberry grunt!
And while I know that the luxury of having oysters, or any kind of seafood, in Toronto is one customers have to be willing to pay for, there’s part of me that is still resistant to dropping a bill on a meal for two for something that I can either get a better version of at home or wouldn’t eat in the first place unless it came with the threat of being grounded.
So while I might occasionally stop by Oyster Boy for a Malpeque fix every now and again, I will probably take a pass on their cooked dishes. I’m not saying the food there is bad – far from it; our Russian friends very much enjoyed their meal and have plans to return. But as a gal who prefers her lobster cooked in a pit on the beach, has eaten mackerel within an hour of personally pulling it from the sea, and who has stood a mile out on the sandflats of the Bay of Fundy at low tide with a shovel in one hand and a bucket of clams in the other, I’ve got a different perspective on seafood. Because you know, I’m from Nova Scotia.