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Oysters were never really my thing. I was happy to partake if a dining companion ordered them (or if the bivalves were a happy hour special), but I never craved them. That is, until Eric Lee (pictured), chef de cuisine at Jax Denver, let me in on a little secret: oysters and vodka.
While living in England in his early 20s, Lee regularly visited the food hall at the famed Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. One day he stopped at the small oyster bar in the corner and ordered a flight: a selection of oysters topped with lemon and vodka; champagne mignonette; cocktail sauce; and served hot. “The lemon and vodka one was by far my favorite,” he says. “It rang true. It had the best flavor—the right bit of bitterness from the alcohol and acidity and zest from the lemon.” Ten years later, this is still Lee’s favorite way to eat oysters.
Discover what converted Lee—and myself—by ordering the pairing at Jax. Although the option isn’t officially listed on the menu (yet), all of the servers and bartenders know about it. For the oyster, Lee recommends choosing a briny East Coast option (the oyster menu changes regularly). I opted for the restaurant’s exclusive Emersum oysters—a sustainably raised bivalve with mellow hints of cucumber and watermelon. Then, pick a shot of vodka. Lee’s current favorite is Hammer & Sickle, though Ketel One is a good fallback. Carefully pour a couple drops on the oyster (a shot should be enough for about a dozen oysters) and add a squeeze of lemon.
The result is just what Lee experienced all those years ago: bitter, acidic, sweet, and all around smooth. Oysters and I have a long future ahead.
Eat Cheap: Happy hour runs from 4 to 6 p.m. daily. Select oysters are $1.25 each.
—Images courtesy of Cassondra Sletten