As he described it, oyster shucking is a combination of sport and artistry in which true professionals strive to improve their speed as well as the graceful manner in which they sever the delicate flesh from its shell. A highly competitive lot, oyster shuckers engage in what can be a perilous race to the top. He told us about a hapless contender at an international shucking contest who grew so nervous on stage that he punched his knife blade through his palm instead of prying apart the shell.
Field launched into a lecture on eight varieties of oysters. Pulling one shell after another from a fishing net, he regaled us with stories about their provenance and taught us to distinguish each by flavor and appearance.
The perfect accompaniment to oyster-tasting is a flute of champagne, and the Bearfoot Bistro's unique bar makes bubbly sipping a sensory delight. The sparkling wine is served in glasses with stems that end in a point; there is no round base on which to set down your flute. So you either have to keep your drink close at hand, or make use of the trough of crushed ice rimming the bar. The ice is poked through with holes perfectly sized for holding your flute and keeping it cold while you reach for another oyster.
Our next dinner stop was Araxi, an oenophile's heaven with a 29-page wine list touting the restaurant's 13,000-bottle collection. The restaurant bills its cuisine as having French and Italian influences; we detected a strong Japanese undercurrent as well.
My entree of seared albacore tuna was so sublimely rare that it could have been sashimi. The fish was accompanied by an oversized vegetable sushi roll atop a heap of stringy black seaweed. Another delicious dish was the sablefish, served with soba noodles and edamame beans in a mild broth.
AFTER dinner, we headed over to Tommy Africa's, an underground dance club.
We had been told that the crowd here might be a tad on the young side, but we hadn't expected tadpoles. On this particular night, we walked into what seemed like a bad junior high school dance. As hip-hop music blared overhead, the boys stood cowering in the shadows with hands in their pockets while girls roamed the room in packs. Eyes fixed on the empty dance floor, but no one made any moves.
The adolescent angst was leeching oxygen from the air, so we grabbed our jackets and ran -- literally. It was so chilly for us Southern Californians that we often launched into a trot when going from place to place. To avoid slipping on the icy snow, I shuffled a lot, flopping my goose-down parka-sleeved arms to maintain balance.
We finally found our groove at Buffalo Bill's. The clientele was more diverse, from hotties in their 20s to women and men well into their 40s.
Maybe that's why so many people were boogieing up a storm -- the '70s and '80s music reminded them of their youth and all those days of carefree abandon. And because they've lived long enough to have grown comfortable in their skin and not give a hoot about what anyone else thought of them on the dance floor.
After the lusty couple tired of Buffalo Bill's dance floor cage, a patron of a different breed climbed in.
He was pudgy, with a receding hairline and a bushy uni-brow. Clenching the cage bars with both hands, he tossed his head back, thrusting his hips this way and that to the booming music as if gripped by muscle spasms.
The joke was on anyone laughing at him; he obviously had much better things to do than care. He was having a terrific time, and so were we.
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Making the scene in British Columbia
From LAX to Vancouver, nonstop flights are available on Air Canada and Alaska airlines and connecting flights (change of planes) on United and America West. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $260.
Airport express buses and shuttles to Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort start at about $50 one-way for adults. Reservations required, (877) 317-7788, www.perimeterbus.com.
The U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere, from airport restaurants in Vancouver to stores to pubs at Whistler, but exchange rates vary. The current rate posted by the Bank of Canada gives you $1.33 Canadian for every $1 U.S. But nightclubs have been known to charge desperate patrons a flat 1-to-1 rate.
The following prices are in U.S. dollars.
WHERE TO STAY:
Fairmont Chateau Whistler, 4599 Chateau Blvd.; (800) 441-1414 or (604) 938-8000, www.fairmont.com/whistler. Luxury hotel within walking distance of the Village. It has a gracious downstairs lodge and slope-side views. Amenities include health club, indoor heated pool, spa services and baby-sitting. Double rates start at $300.
Best Western Listel Whistler, 4121 Village Green; (800) 663-5472, www.listelhotel.com. This 98-unit hotel is in the heart of the Village. It has an indoor hot tub, sauna and heated outdoor pool. Doubles start at $74.