GENEVA – Living in the Midwest may not always provide ample opportunities to enjoy the fresh, “off the boat” catches you would expect to find in states bordering the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean or Gulf of Mexico. But getting fresh seafood in the Chicago suburbs is not an impossible feat.
Located in the Dodson Place plaza overlooking tree-lined 3rd Street in downtown Geneva, is the upscale American restaurant Wildwood, and every Thursday it receives a shipment of fresh oysters, which it serves on Thursday. And – so I was told – the restaurant also has a tendency to sell out on Thursday, providing its dining clientele ample opportunity for fresh fare.
The Oyster Bar opens in the Wildwood lounge beginning at 5 p.m. It’s not a buffet – you still order from a menu. The Oyster Bar menu is usually posted on the restaurant website the day before so customers know exactly from where the next day’s shipments of oysters are hailing. Normally, Wildwood offers four different kinds of oysters on the half shell – two from the East Coast and two from the West Coast. The menu also includes Peel ’N Eat Shrimp, New England Clam Chowder and discounted Prosecco, rose and sparkling wine ($5.50 a glass).
My dining companion and I entered the lounge around 5:30 p.m. and – with the unexpected 70-degree weather in July – decided to sit outside at one of Wildwood’s outdoor patios, where a few tables already were settled by people slurping oysters, peeling shrimp and exploring Wildwood’s simple-yet-wonderful Oyster Bar menu.
Only three of the four oyster options had made it in on time that particular Thursday, so we ordered three ($7.50) of the Delaware oysters from Delaware Bay, New Jersey; and three ($7.50) of the Fanny Bay oysters from Baynes Sound British Columbia, Canada.
They also can be ordered by the half dozen ($12) and dozen ($20).
We also ordered the clam chowder ($6) and a dozen Peel ’N Eat Shrimp ($8).
Our oysters came shucked and presented on ice with fresh lemons, champagne mignonette sauce, Tabasco and horseradish. The Delaware oysters were large, plump and had a salty, crisp flavor, while the Fanny Bay oysters were medium in size and had a sweet, citrus flavor.
The very process of oyster eating – the squeezing of the lemon, smattering of horseradish, Tabasco sauce and delicate slurping – instantly rendered me defenseless to a “vacation” state of mind. The last time I enjoyed fresh oysters was in Florida two years ago. So, this was quite a treat.
The Gulf shrimp are boiled with Cajun and garlic spices and served with lemons and a side of cocktail sauce. I could have stayed at that table peeling and eating shrimp into the wee hours of the evening. They were cooked to perfection, easy to peel and the spices enhanced the shrimp without overpowering them.
The clam chowder elicited a similar response with its heavy creamy concoction of onions, potatoes, clams and subtle kick of spice at the end of each bite.
Exploring the culinary scene in Kane County can be quite an adventure, and it’s always particularly enjoyable when you discover a place that delivers exactly what you crave, and with the utmost precision. With Wildwood’s Thursday Oyster Bar, never again will I have to dream of the palm-laced beaches of Florida in order to remember what it is to dine on raw oysters and taste the delicate flavors of the sea.
• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at the Kane County Chronicle. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.