When I met Morten (who is Norwegian) and Chieko (who is Japanese) for oysters last week, we spoke French, as it’s the only language we have in common. Unspeakable grammatical atrocities were surely committed at the table that day: We spoke about our futures in the past tense and subjected countless unwitting nouns to gender reassignment.
Language is a living thing. So is a fresh oyster, though I don’t have any problem sacrificing a few dozen bivalves in the name of lunch.
At La Cabane à Huitres, you can eat the only oysters in France still cultivated in direct contact with the sand and mud of the sea, without a protective bag. Francis Dubourg, the patron and a fourth generation ostréiculteur in the Arcachon basin, says he is the last one in France to do it this way, and he does it in the name of that very French concept of terroir. The sacks, you see, act as a kind of filter, and M. Dubourg believes that his oysters are more flavorful for being grown in the buff.
I noticed a difference: All oysters have a brinyness to them but these had a real salty streak and a kind of minerality not found in all of the spéciales from the Oleron I had been eating. (See here and here.)
M. Dubourg is very, very proud of his oysters, and he enjoys talking about them. Bless his heart, he spoke in the slow, clear French of a good teacher and we kept up just fine. Apparently he has garnered a lot of attention for the quality of his oysters, and for being the last hold out in the no-sack tradition. NPR did a piece on La Cabane, a Japanese network filmed a spot there, and heads of state have been known to stop in. Local celebrities are regulars, and an aging French pop star serenaded the tiny dining room with “Blueberry Hill” on a recent afternoon.
I warned M. Dubourg that I would do the same if he gave me any more wine.
He poured us a smooth Armagnac, insisted we take a few pictures, and sent us on our way.
La Cabane à Huitres, 4 Rue Antoine Bourdelle, Paris 75015, +33 (0)1 45 49 47 27