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