Tag Archives: Ferry Building

HOG ISLAND OYSTER COMPANY

Hog Island Oyster Company is on Tomales Bay, just a short, beautiful drive north of San Francisco. Once there, you can buy unshucked oysters and other shellfish to take back home with you, or you can have all varieties of raw and cooked oysters, clams, and mussels in a spacious restaurant with great views of the bay.

Don’t worry if you can’t make the time to take the drive. You can still get fresh oysters at the Hog Island Oyster Company at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. The Ferry Building is one of the great destinations for visitors to the city. It has been lovingly renovated and occupies a dominant place on the Embarcadero. On Saturdays it serves as home for a huge farmers market where all of the city’s chefs shop. You are likely to catch a glimpse of someone you have seen on television or in whose restaurant you have eaten.

The Ferry Building is lined with shops filled with hard-to-find food, well-known products like Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, pottery, jewelry, and expensive one-of-a-kind kitchen gadgets.

The building sits right on the water because in times past it served as the terminal for the many ferries that crossed San Francisco Bay. Now the Oakland Ferry has a berth just a few steps away from the restaurant of the Hog Island Oyster Company. The beautiful new Bay Bridge makes a perfect backdrop, so that Hog Island is a popular stop for locals and tourists alike.

The Oakland Ferry and the Bay Bridge in the background

The Oakland Ferry and the Bay Bridge in the background

Expect a crowd on the weekend or when the weather is beautiful. That means you will have to wait, but the line moves quickly. It moves even more quickly if you get a bloody mary from the bar to pass the time.

Waiting in line

Waiting in line

Of course, outdoor seats are at a premium, so you may have to wait a little longer for them. But seats at the counter are often available, and to me they are preferable. You can watch the woman who runs the garde manger station as she whips up salads with blinding speed. Her knife skills are amazing as she cuts fresh basil into a fine chiffonade while she surveys the dining room. You can also watch the three oyster shuckers working non-stop to fill all the orders for oysters on the half shell.

Non-stop oyster shucking

Non-stop oyster shucking

Whenever we visit San Francisco, we almost always make at least one pilgrimage to Hog Island, and we almost always order their biggest tray of raw oysters – 2 dozen, mixed.

This time there were seven different kinds of oysters, so they sent out four each of six kinds. We asked for Kumomotos, our favorite, but they did not include Hog Island’s own Kumomotos. They are beautifully fluted and much smaller than other varieties, but they have a sweetness, brininess, and flavor that are unique. When we complained to the waiter, he promised to bring out some more, and he did. Then we recognized him as a server who had worked at Rich Table when it first opened.

Acme bread

Acme bread

Raw oysters

Raw oysters

You need a glass of wine to wash down the oysters

You need a glass of wine to wash down the oysters

We had a nice visit with Charles and then got down to business: eating all of those oysters with a tasty mignonette along with glasses of refreshing wine. Next came a plate of yellow fin crudo prepared by the garde manger lady and topped with her incredibly fine basil chiffonade.

Yellow fin crudo

Yellow fin crudo

Susan had an oyster roast instead of her usual clam chowder. I finished up with rustic seafood stew. I asked why, if this is San Francisco, it’s not called ciappino. The reply was that it didn’t have the crab required to call it that. It had everything else. Tentacles of the calamari, heads on the shrimp, clams, mussels, chunks of white fish, savory broth, and toasted Acme bread to soak up any leftover broth.  If there would have been.

Rustic seafood stew

Rustic seafood stew

Then home to catch a quick nap before it was time to pick up they boys.

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CUCUMBER-NORI-SESAME SALAD AND SAUTÉED ROYAL TRUMPET MUSHROOMS: THE FINISHING TOUCHES

Just two more dishes to finish the description of the celebratory meal we had from foods we collected at the Ferry Building Farmers Market. Both are easy to make but surprisingly unique.

Cucumber-nori-sesame salad

The first was a refreshing salad made with amazingly crunchy and green baby cucumbers and fresh salad greens accented with bits of nori and toasted white sesame seeds.

Royal trumpet mushrooms

The second was a delicate sauté of royal trumpet mushrooms with scallions.

Scallions

Sautéed mushrooms and scallions ready to serve

As a bonus not from the farmers market we had a fresh loaf of home-baked Tartine basic country bread made from the recipe in Chad Robertson’s elegant and detailed cookbook, Tartine Bread, Chronicle Books, Ltd, San Francisco, 2010, pages 41-79. (Yes, that’s a long recipe. I plan to post an abbreviated version soon. That should enable you to reproduce the absolutely best home-made bread I have ever tasted).

Fresh loaf of Tartine-style bread

RECIPES

Cucumber-Nori-Sesame Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 small, firm baby cucumbers cut crosswise into ½ inch slices
  • 2 Cups mixed baby salad greens
  • ½ 7 inch sheet of nori cut into ½ inch squares
  • vinaigrette (home-made is the best, but use your favorite)
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons white sesame seeds, lightly toasted

Procedure

  • Combine the cucumbers, greens, and nori in a serving bowl.
  • Dress lightly with your favorite vinaigrette. If you like, add the optional sesame oil. Toss.
  • Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  • Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Should serve four

Sautéed Royal Trumpet Mushrooms with Scallions

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil (use EVOO – extra virgin olive oil – if you like)
  • 1 small basket (about 2 Cups) fresh royal trumpet mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
  • 1 bunch (6 to 8) scallions, trimmed and cut crosswise into ½ inch pieces, including the green tops
  • salt and pepper

Procedure

  • Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add the mushrooms and scallions and sauté until cooked through.
  • Correct seasonings with salt and pepper.
  • Serve immediately.

Table set with sweet peas

We set the table with the bouquet of multi-colored sweet peas bought from the flower stall, plated up the feast, and enjoyed it while Evan finished his last day at the restaurant.

Ready to eat

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MORE FARMERS MARKET DINNER: BRAISED LAMB SHANKS

San Francisco’s Ferry Building Farmers Market is much more than the outdoor stalls which attract crowds a couple of days each week. There are all sorts of shops inside the building selling everything from kitchen gear to local caviar. The cheese shops are outstanding, the bakeries are great, and the mushroom place has a huge choice of the freshest specimens. For the carnivores, there are several great shops, but a favorite of both Sarah and me is Prather Ranch. We bought four succulent lamb shanks already done up in plastic, but clearly very fresh. These would be the centerpiece of our farmers market meal.

Turning the braising lamb shanks

After getting the lamb shanks home, Sarah browned them in a huge Magnalite casserole along with a couple of cloves of smashed garlic and some aromatic vegetables: carrots and onions. Chefs seem divided over the use of celery in the classic mirepoix combination of onions, celery, and carrots. Some refuse to use celery as they think it is too bitter. Whatever your own personal bias might be, be sure to brown the lamb shanks in some oil and your choice of vegetables. Add some stock or water and a good slug of red wine. Season with salt and pepper. Toss in a generous handful of fresh thyme and Mediterranean (not Mexican) oregano. Bring to a boil, and then cover and reduce the heat to the lowest simmer.

Some purists insist on using rosemary and garlic as the classic seasoning for lamb. You can do that instead if you prefer, but I can guarantee that thyme and oregano work beautifully.

Steaming braising liquid with herbs

Sarah finished her dish over low heat on the stove top, turning and basting frequently as well as skimming off excess fat. If you prefer, you can braise the lamb shanks, covered,  in the oven at low heat – no more than 250°F. Be sure to check the pot frequently and skim the rendered fat. Plan to braise the shanks for at least 2 to 3 hours or until the meat is well done, tender, and falling off the bone.

When they are done to your liking, remove the lamb shanks to a platter and serve them immediately while still warm.

Finished lamb shanks

Lamb shanks vary greatly in size, but in most cases you should allow one for each diner. With only three of us and four lamb shanks we wound up with leftovers.

Ready to serve

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ASPARAGUS: LET IT STEW IN ITS OWN JUICE

Another part of our recent meal provided from our trip to the Ferry Building Farmers Market. Even though these days asparagus is available the year around, local, really fresh asparagus is still a harbinger to the spring in northern climes. It is then that it is at its best. There are lots of great ways to cook asparagus – steamed, boiled, baked, and grilled. This method taught to me by Sarah produces the greenest, freshest-tasting asparagus I’ve ever had.

Fresh asparagus spears

We bought three bundles of the thickest stalks we could find in the asparagus stall at the market.

Juicing the asparagus stems

When we were ready for dinner, Sarah cut the thick ends of the stalks where the tender flesh begins. You probably already do the same. I usually throw away those woody ends, but Sarah dropped them into her electric juicer and got the greenest asparagus juice I’ve ever seen. Actually, I’d never seen asparagus juice before.

Peeling the asparagus spears

Next, using a very sharp paring knife, Sarah made the very thinnest peelings of the skins of the asparagus spears.

Peeled asparagus spears ready to cook

Then she put the juice, seasoned with just a little salt and pepper, in a pan large enough to allow the spears to lie flat. She brought the juice to a boil, dropped in the spears, and cooked them for just a few minutes until the asparagus was tender. The finished spears were a bright green color and fragrant.

Asparagus spears cooking in asparagus juice

Sarah served the asparagus with just sections of lemon to squeeze over it, but you can use whatever is your favorite asparagus sauce – hollandaise, aioli, or home-made mayonnaise.

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FERRY BUILDING FEAST: OYSTERS WITH CUCUMBER-DILL MIGNONETTE

Our trip to the Ferry Building Farmers Market coincided with the day that Sarah and Evan got the keys for their new restaurant space, so we were in a celebratory mood. Never mind that Evan had one last night at his current restaurant, Susan, Sarah, and I were going to have a party.

Selecting the best oysters

And what better way to begin the celebration than champagne and oysters on the half shell. Two dozen oysters sounded just about right for the three of us, and the oysters from Hog Island Oyster Company were fresh and just the right size. We brought home a mesh bag iced down for the short journey home.

Opening the oysters with an oyster knife

At dinner time, Sarah brought out her oyster knife and made short work of the shucking. Of course, she is a professional, so she knew what she was doing. She wrapped each shell in a kitchen towel and grabbed it firmly with one hand. Using an oyster knife, she slipped the point of the knife into the hinge of the shell, twisted the knife firmly, and popped open the innocent oyster. She cut the muscles holding the oyster in the shell, removed the top shell, and placed the fresh oyster on a bed of ice.

Opening the oysters with an oyster knife

If you have never opened an oyster on your own. There are a few important pointers. First, be sure to use a good-quality oyster knife. Regular knives can bend and break, and you can wind up plunging the blade into your hand. Serious injuries to blood vessels and tendons can result. Second, the towel is supposed to provide some protection so it should not be flimsy. If you are  a little nervous, Kevlar gloves are available and provide more safety. If you are still anxious, have your fish monger shuck the oysters before you bring them home.

Oysters on the half shell with lemon

You can eat raw oysters with no dressing. That’s the way real aficionados do it so they can taste the brine of the sea. For me, a little lemon juice brightens the taste. In Louisiana they douse with hot sauce. The classic accompaniment is a fresh mignonette sauce. The following recipe is for Sarah’s version based upon ingredients from the farmers market.

RECIPE

Cucumber-dill mignonette

Ingredients

  • ½ cup champagne vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons finely chopped shallots
  • 4 teaspoons finely diced cucumber
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced fennel fronds
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced dill weed
  • 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • salt to taste

Method

  1. In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients with a wire whisk
  2. Serve immediately or chill until ready to serve

Oysters, mignonette, and sparkling wine ready for the celebration

We opened a bottle of California sparkling white wine, toasted the new restaurant, and enjoyed our raw oysters with cucumber-dill mignonette.

Toasting the new restaurant

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THE FERRY BUILDING FARMERS MARKET

Susan and I have been making the Great California Loop away from a computer for over two weeks, child tending in all of our children’s houses. That doesn’t mean that we have not had some good food adventures along the way. Over the next several posts, I will describe some of those experiences.

Chefs chatting in front of the Ferry Building

And what better place to begin than San Francisco’s famous Ferry Building Farmers Market? The Saturday edition is the most popular and crowded. It is a big-city street fair with buskers a-plenty, kids on skate boards, families with babies in strollers, and lots of tourists. If you watch carefully you can see some of the best known chefs in the city shopping for their weekend menus and visiting with one another. The main reason for the market’s popularity is the amazing cornucopia of the freshest Northern California food products, and this time of the year the choices are simply amazing.

Sweet peas

Sweet Williams

We  were in a celebratory mood because Sarah and Evan finalized the contract for their new restaurant space just before we headed to the market. Sarah thought we needed to be festive so our first stop was in the bank of flower stalls at the front of the building. The fragrance of the sweet peas attracted us, and Sarah bought an armful of blossoms of all hues.

Asian pears

We passed up the Asian pears and other fresh fruits because we had already opted for fresh-churned ice cream for dessert.

Choose your asparagus

Next stop was the asparagus stall. There were bundles of thick, medium, and thin stalks arranged in orderly rows. The abundance made it hard to choose, but we finally settled on three bundles of beautiful, thick, fresh stalks before moving down the row of vendors.  Fresh dill, thyme, and oregano all made it to our shopping bag.

Beautiful vegetables

Mushrooms! Baskets filled with all varieties of the tasty fungi. Criminis, whites, Portobellos, oysters, shitakes, and my favorites – lion’s manes. There were some giant royal trumpets, but we chose a basket of the most beautiful small-size trumpets.

New potatoes

New potatoes in all colors, sizes, and shapes – a good choice for smashed potatoes.

Hog Island Oyster Company

Hog Island Oyster Company  http://www.hogislandoysters.com is one of the landmarks of the market. We often go to their restaurant for fresh oysters or clam chowder, but today we went to their food stall. They had choices of small and large local sweet oysters-in-the-shell and some crenelated beauties from British Columbia. Sarah got a dozen each of the small sweets and the BCs.

Sarah at the Prather Ranch shop

Then we went inside the Ferry Building to the Prather Ranch stall   http://www.pratherranch.com where we found some juicy lamb shanks.

Chilaquiles

A little more shopping for green garlic to braise with the lamb shanks and some baby cucumbers to turn into a salad. Then, with shopping finished we stopped off for an early lunch. There were all sorts of choices including fried chicken, porchetta sandwiches, and lots of Mexican food. We settled on plates of freshly made chilaquiles to eat al fresco on a make-do seat along a planter wall. Evan loaded up his supply for the restaurant, and Sarah and I packed ours up for what looked like a feast that evening.

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