Aspen Untucked: A meal to remember
Some of the most memorable experiences in life occur during or because of a meal. Whether it’s home-cooked, luxuriously prepared, freshly picked or recently caught, food is a way to tell a story and learn about a culture. That’s why, whenever I travel to a new place, I like to learn about it through eating and drinking. This is often to the detriment of my thighs, but hey, we can’t have it all.
During our time on the West Coast, my boyfriend and I have ate our way through just about every place we’ve visited. We’ve tried many a dish, but our favorites have involved seafood.
Living in a landlocked state, seafood isn’t particularly plentiful. Even in Aspen, where restaurants fly in fresh fish every day, this type of cuisine is not something we’re exactly known for. However, when any self-respecting seafood lover heads to a coast, consuming fresh, ocean-residing animals is a huge priority.
Over the past couple of weeks, we have eaten an unreasonable amount of seafood. Think aquarium-sized amounts of it. Each experience has been just as delectable as the next, but there was one particular evening that will forever stand out in our memories. That was last week when we found ourselves at an Oregonian crab fest in the small town of Clatskanie, about an hour northwest of Portland. A dear family friend lives there and we were paying her a visit. She wanted to provide us with a true northwest experience, so on the final night of our stay we went over to her friend’s house for a feast of Dungeness crab.
I thought my crab-eating experiences would never evolve much past the Ultimate Feast dish at Red Lobster, and I was learning to accept that. Sure, one can order crab legs at a lot of wonderful restaurants, but an authentic crab dinner seemed reserved for fisherman. That’s why we were practically giddy as we walked into a 100-year old Victorian house filled with around 25 people we had never met before.
Although we knew hardly anyone at the dinner, it was obvious they all knew each other very well. Most of them were 50 or older and had grown up in Clatskanie or close by. Many of the guests had known one another since high school or earlier. Our hosts were two sisters, Bee and Lou Lou, who grew up in the town with their 13 siblings. The conversations throughout the evening were about old times and new. A good majority of the guests talked about their favorite places to fish, making it clear to me that I need to prioritize making more fisherman friends. Everyone was so welcoming to us, even though we were clearly the youngest and most inexperienced diners in the group.
When we were told to sit down for dinner, our hosts grabbed scores of crabs out of a cooler and threw them on the table in front of us. Plates were entirely pointless for this meal, and it was obvious that messes were encouraged. Once the crustaceans hit the table, we got to work. To procure the tasty meat out of these guys, we needed a few tools. These included meat tenderizers, pliers, crab crackers and seafood forks. My favorite was the meat tenderizer, quite possibly because it encouraged a dramatic strategy for getting to the good stuff. Once the meat was freed from the crab’s exterior, we dunked it in melted butter and ate it voraciously. We had never tasted anything so fresh. Lou Lou told us they were caught the day before and had only been cooked hours earlier.
Several crabs, a few drinks and hundreds of laughs later, we were entirely satiated. Our gracious hosts wouldn’t allow us to lift a finger to help clean up. They joked that they would open all the doors in the morning and the dogs and cats around the neighborhood would come in and do the cleaning for them. Whether that was true or not, we thanked them profusely for showing us such a wonderful time. The nicest seafood restaurant in the country couldn’t have provided a more genuine and delicious experience. It’s an evening we will never forget.
Barbara Platts is fairly certain that the only place she will ever be able to enjoy crab ever again is at Bee and Lou Lou’s place in Clatskanie, Oregon. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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