25 September, 2014

The Big E 2014 - Matunuck Oyster Bar

In Rhode Island, the Matunuck Oyster Bar is justifiably renowned as one of the state's - indeed, even the country's - best oyster bars. And so it was great excitement that it was announced that they'd be opening up a raw bar at the Big E. While anything new is welcomed at the Exposition (existing businesses tend to become entrenched and the waiting list for new vendors to come in can often be years long) having Matunuck arrive at the fair was treated as an especially big deal, particularly by the local news media who went bonkers over the idea of a raw bar at the Eastern States Exposition! 

[To tell the truth, I was pretty excited by this news too - this is a New England state fair, after all, and we need more New England-oriented attractions and fewer stupid copycat crap attractions like the faux "Mardi Gras" parade.  Mardis Gras? Really? In fucking September??]

So anyway, I wandered by the oyster bar to see what all the fuss was about. The shellfish was nicely iced and looked pretty decent, and they were taking the time to shuck oysters as they were ordered to make sure everyone got the best experience possible. So I ordered half a dozen oysters for a light early lunch.

They were...okay.  Just okay. Nothing stellar, and I'm really glad I decided to order when I did, because when the fair gets crowded, there is a long queue at the ordering counter here and these oysters were, quite frankly, not worth an extended wait time. They were good enough for oysters trucked inland far from the sea, but also they were small, not very plump, and not very sweet or briny. Go to one of Matunuck's Rhode Island restaurants and you will have an awesome experience. Go to their Big E building and you will have supermarket oysters.

The condiments available for the oysters are low-grade standard as well - a slice of lemon and a cup of very bland and ketchupy cocktail sauce on the plate, and a bottle of unexceptional hot sauce at the pickup window for optional sprinkles. Horseradish was missing and very sadly missed - I would have take a big scoop of it just to mix with the cocktail sauce to try and kick up its Heinz 57ness.

Matunuck's auxiliary seating bench (a concrete flower bed.)
I'm also going to take this opportunity to bitch about the seating. Many of the food vendors (and restaurant operators) at the Big E take a crowd-oriented view of seating: they set out picnic tables in their areas and benches at the perimeters, and as folks order they find seats with strangers along with friends, kind of "boarding house" style. Sharing a space like this is common and traditional and it gets people, if not talking to each other, at least introducing themselves and exchanging a little small talk. Not at Manutuck Oyster Bar, though. They set out tiny little tables which can just about fit four people. Except a great number of couples claim tables in such a way that it makes it difficult or impossible for anyone else to sit and share a space, effectively cutting their seating capacity in half. The result of this misguided attempt at "intimate bistro seating" is that those unlucky enough not to find a seat are forced to wander out to the back alley and sit on the concrete edge of the flower bed ringing the New England Center building. There's a great view of the electrical transformer and the service area/trash barrels for the various food vendors. At least it was convenient to be able to just walk a step or two to throw away the shells.

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