“The Shad (Clupea Sapidissima)” from the First Annual Report of the Commissioners of Fisheries, Game, and Forests of the State of New York, New York, United States: Commissioners of Fisheries, Game, and Forests of the State of New York, January 1896.
The thermometer outside my kitchen window reads thirty-nine degrees, firmly on the leonine side of March’s spectrum. But in the park, trees are budding. In the greenmarkets, forsythia are rearing their heads. And, in restaurants, shad are running.
Okay, they’re not actually running in restaurants. On my annual pilgrimage for shad roe, my better-informed dining companion told me that these particular egg sacs had likely traveled north from Washington, D.C.—maybe from the Potomac? The point is, shad are in season, whether one favors the bony fish itself or its slightly more approachable roe.
Shad and shad roe used to be a common spring meal up and down the Eastern seaboard. Nowadays, it is the purview of traditionalists and evangelical seasonal eaters. If you are neither, it is still the kind of edible time machine that is worth seeking out when you can. At the Grand Central Oyster Bar, the roe is served with bacon and a broiled tomato. Newly cleaned, the restaurant’s famous Murano tiles gleam under the lamplight, and commuters come and go, and even if you secretly think the shad is pretty overcooked and you’re kind of relieved not to have to eat it on the regular, all is very much right with the world.
You don’t need me to tell you that Cornelius Vanderbilt’s underground seafood house offers treats even to the shellfish averse. Like the Echo Wall in Beijing, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Salle de Cariatides in the Louvre, the hallway leading to the oyster bar contains one of the world’s handful of whispering galleries, an architectural oddity that allows one to hear the whispered communications of an interlocutor from a great distance.
Last year, I went with a friend for shad roe. After we ate, I said that I wanted to tell him a special secret. We took our places at diagonal points of the arched gallery just outside the restaurant. I whispered into the corner where the two walls of white tiles met. Like magic, my voice traveled across the vast room to his waiting ear.
“YOU DON’T LIKE ASTRAL WEEKS?” screamed my friend in horror.
So much for secrets.
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