A recent Thursday at 10:20 a.m.: As the delivery men unloaded 500 dozen oysters onto a dolly near 24th and Mission streets, Andy Hoa Dat Lai sifted through of few of the oysters on top of the pile.
Lai couldn't help but giggle. He looks forward to Thursday mornings more any other day of the week. Born in Vietnam, he has a love affair with oysters that started in 1996 when friends suggested he eat one at a Houston sports bar. He gobbled two dozen oysters that night. He likens the experience to drinking a fine wine, insisting that people who swallow the raw, slippery creatures without chewing are cheating themselves of one of life's great experiences.
Shortly after his first oyster experience, he moved to San Francisco to run the Sun Fat Seafood Co. with his three siblings. Customers know him as the Oyster Guy. When asked, Lai is more than willing help customers choose the good ones among the 12 to 15 varieties the store keeps in buckets of cool, bubbling water.
The 48-year-old connoisseur can tell if an oyster is good by picking one up. An uncertain customer handed him a plastic bag with a dozen oysters she had selected for a special dinner.
"There is a bad one in here," Lai said after jostling the bag and listening to the knocking shells. He sifted through them, tapping shells together, and produced the offending oyster. He plucked a new oyster from a bucket and tapped. The solid clunking sound made him smile.
"This one is good," he reassured his customer.
To see a multimedia production of this piece, go to blog.sfgate.com/cityexposed. If you have ideas for the City Exposed, e-mail Mike Kepka at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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