Tag Archives: Hog Island Oyster Company

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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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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