Tag Archives: oysters


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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While working on my recent post about baked oysters New Orleans style, I got to thinking about all of the food I have enjoyed focused on oysters: oysters on the half-shell, oysters Rockefeller, oyster po’boys, etc., etc. I also got to thinking about all of the good meals I have enjoyed in New Orleans.

One outstanding oyster dish from New Orleans immediately came to mind: Potage Le Ruth, invented by Chef Warren Leruth and served at his fabled Le Ruth’s Restaurant on the West Bank in Gretna. Before he opened his restaurant, Leruth had gained recognition  as a baker, chef and food innovator. He had been personal chef to General Clark when he was in the army in Korea, and he helped to develop the famous Duncan Hines cake mixes at Proctor & Gamble. So it was not surprising when he decided to open his own place in his home town.

New Orleans is one of those cities where everyone wants the latest gossip about new restaurants and hot places to go. When Le Ruth’s opened in 1966, it caught everyone’s attention with its creative cuisine. Food critics at the time said that Leruth rescued New Orleans dining from itself because all of the old-line restaurants had started to rest on their reputations and the food had become more or less the same. Le Ruth’s changed all of that and soon gained the reputation as being undoubtedly the best restaurant in the city. That was evidenced by the difficulty in snagging a reservation.

It was not the easiest place to get to. You could use the bridge over the Mississippi River, but it was far easier to ride the Gretna ferry from the foot of Canal Street and then catch a cab to the restaurant.

I remember clearly the first time I ever ate at Le Ruth’s. A group of colleagues and I were attending a business meeting in downtown New Orleans. We had made our reservations well in advance, and everyone was looking forward to the experience. We found our way to the restaurant, took our seats at the table and, ordered wine. One of the group stuck two of the corks from the wine bottles in his nostrils  when they were offered to him. He announced that the wine was perfect. We all laughed, but two distinguished ladies at the next table raised their eyebrows. I don’t exactly recall, but I believe that at least the wine taster had spent a sizeable part of the afternoon on Bourbon Street.

It is a good thing we didn’t get tossed out. Le Ruth had the reputation for responding to critical letters with scathing rebukes from an “anonymous” diner. For folks who gave real offense, he would assign four waiters to the corners of the tablecloth of the miscreant. At a signal, they would lift the cloth to form a sack of food, dinnerware, and wine while Leruth would announce that he “had picked up the check” and summarily declare, “Get out of my restaurant!” I am certain that Warren Leruth would know how to handle the current generation of whiners on Yelp.

Le Ruth’s served many delicious and unique dishes, but perhaps the most famous was Potage Le Ruth. Unfortunately, to my knowledge there is no extant authentic recipe. Leruth said that he had  the original locked up in a vault. Nevertheless, imitations – none as good – soon showed up on the menus of most of the other high-end restaurants in New Orleans. Then recipes for oyster and artichoke soup began to appear in local newspapers. Many of the knock-offs used cream, but Leruth bragged that his recipe contained no cream.  The soup is a sort of rich velouté based on a blond roux, so you really shouldn’t need cream.

Surprisingly, some food writers say that Leruth used canned artichokes. My version does, too, although respected New Orleans chefs insist that only fresh artichokes, properly cooked and prepared, will do. If you want to use fresh artichokes, probably four medium are about right. My version is adapted from a recipe that appeared in one of the Shreveport newspapers of the time. Be advised that it is not the real thing. I have taken the additional liberty of adding some whole oysters in the style of an oyster stew. Even though it lacks authenticity, I think you will find it a most delicious soup.


Oyster and Artichoke Soup


  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ medium onion, chopped finely
  • 1 rib celery, chopped finely
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and chopped finely
  • 14 ounce can artichoke hearts, quartered
  • 3 cups hot fish stock
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground bay
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 pint oysters
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice (about)
  • 1 pinch sugar (about)
  • ¼ cup madeira


  1. Melt butter in the bottom of a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and sauté until the onions are translucent and the other vegetables have wilted. Do not brown.
  2. Add the flour and continue cook over medium heat and stirring frequently until the flour is completely incorporated and the raw taste has disappeared, about 2 minutes.
  3. Drain the artichokes and add to the sautéed mixture.
  4. Stir in the hot stock, thyme, bay, cayenne, salt and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer partly covered for 45 minutes.
  5. Strain the oysters in a fine-mesh strainer to remove any bits of shell and sand, saving the liquid. Set aside about half the oysters to be stewed later, and chop the remainder. Add the chopped oysters to the oyster liquor and then stir into the simmering soup, cooking for another 10 minutes below the boil
  6. With an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Correct seasoning with vinegar and sugar. Add the madeira. If you wish, at this point you may strain the soup through a chinois for an especially smooth soup, or you can omit that step.
  7. Return the soup to medium-low heat and stir in the remaining oysters, cooking until they are firm and the edges are curled.
  8. Serve immediately or cool to serve later. Then, reheat to the boiling point and serve immediately. Grilled farm-style bread makes a good accompaniment.


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At the end of our train trip from Seattle to Los Angeles, we spent a few days with our daughter, Carol, and her family. She is an excellent cook, and she always tries to make some interesting food during our visits. She also knows that Susan loves oysters, and since she grew up in Louisiana, New Orleans style baked oysters seemed perfect – even though it is May. The recipe in her recipe box is called Oysters Mosska, undoubtedly so as not to get in trouble with Mosca’s restaurant in the New Orleans suburb of Westwego and home to the eponymous Oysters Mosca.

Mosca’s is one of the old-line favorite restaurants of local residents, having opened in 1946 and operated by the same family ever since. Part of its charm is that it is not easy to find. It is on Highway 90 a ways after you cross the Huey P. Long Bridge, but it sits back from the road, is a low-slung white-painted clapboard building that looks more like a house, and has only a small, dimly lit sign. When we were living in Louisiana, I drove right by it more than once. An interesting story is that the place was where everyone went after a night spent in the gambling houses that populated this now-lonely stretch of road. As well, rumor has linked the restaurant to the local Mafia, but the Moscas have neither confirmed nor denied that rumor.

Once inside, you are struck by the liveliness of the place. It is brightly lit and filled with families enjoying themselves. Even with a reservation you may have to wait on the straight-backed chairs lined up against the walls.

Th menu is fairly limited but filled with Italian standbys that all have a full quota of garlic. Virtually every table has at least one order of Oysters Mosca. In the old days, the dish would be served in a metal cake pan, and each diner would fish out his or her helping of succulent oysters.

To my knowledge the family has never provided an authorized version of the recipe for Oysters Mosca. We have a made-up version in our family cookbook that is a close approximation. As I mentioned above, this version comes from Carol’s recipe collection and is labelled “Oysters Mosska”, I suspect to protect against any accusations of copyright infringement.

If you do decide to visit the restaurant, be advised that they do not accept checks or credit cards – cash only. But they do have a convenient ATM inside the dining area.

Oysters cooking in liquor/beef stock sauce

Oysters cooking in liquor/beef stock sauce

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

Baked oysters New Orleans style

Baked oysters New Orleans style


Baked Oysters New Orleans Style


  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1½ tablespoons garlic, chopped
  • 1 pint shucked oysters with liquor
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
  • Creole spice
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1 tablespoon basil chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil


  1. n a saute pan over mediu heat, cook onions untile translucent. Then add garlic and stir for about 1 minute.
  2. Add the oyster liquor and the beef stock. Bring to the boil and simmer until the liquids are reduced to about one-half.
  3. Add the oysters and parsley. Return to the boil and then remove from heat. Adjust seasoning with Creole spice, salt, and pepper.
  4. Transfer to a metal cake pan or a shallow baking dish.
  5. Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, chopped basil, 1 teaspoon of Creole spice, and olive oil. Sprinkle over the top of the oysters.
  6. Place under a pre-heated broiler for 8 to 10 minutes or until the top is brown and bubbling.
  7. Serve immediately. 2 or 3 servings


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Rich Table in the Hayes Valley section of San Francisco has only been open for a little over 2 months, but already the food and service have impressed the local critics. Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle has said, “It was ironic and symbolic that my first visit to Rich Table was the night of the blue moon, because only once in a blue moon does a restaurant like this come along.” ( 3½ stars, September 30, 2012) In San Francisco magazine, Josh Sens says, “Elements of surprise…Rich Table might sound like every other joint in town, but it’s not.” (3 stars, October, 2012)   7×7 San Francisco has selected Sarah and Evan as the chef representatives in their annual “The Hot 30”. (October, 2012)

With all that publicity, it may not be a surprise that the reservation book is filled for the next three months, but even if you can’t get a reservation, don’t despair. There are a few seats at the communal table deliberately left open for walk-ins. The bar is always humming, so you may need to sit on an outside bench to wait your turn.

How did a new restaurant get up and running so smoothly in such a short time? Only part of the answer is the talent of the chef-owners, Sarah and Evan Rich. The other part is the professional staff who work together comfortably, more like a family than a restaurant crew.

Maz has taken on responsibility for running the front of the house after working in the wait staff and as beverage manager for years at Coi. He has put together a menu of creative cocktails and an excellent choice of wines and beers that complement the food.

James and Nick have worked as cooks with Sarah and Evan for years, and so watching them in action is like watching a well-practiced athletic team. They have been joined by Bayoni, Miles, and Andrew. How all these folks fit in the tiny open kitchen is a mystery, but without a misstep they work with one another to turn out the orders beautifully composed and on cue.

Michael and Charles left good, long-time positions in high-end restaurants to join the team. Rachel and Jamie, the runner, have also become team members. This makes a first-class, friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable front-of-the-house crew.

We visited San Francisco a few days ago with plans to eat at Rich Table. As parents of one of the chefs, Sarah, we thought that would not be a problem, but in a text message, Sarah gently reminded my wife that we need to let her know our plans , otherwise she could not guarantee a space.

We wound up sitting at the communal table with a party of five from France. They were making the “Great Circle Tour” of the American West. Even with limited English on their part and non-existent French on ours, we enjoyed a chat and wound up sharing some food.  They cleaned their plates and enjoyed the restaurant. I heard  one  say, “Magnifique.”

We spent three hours eating everything that Sarah sent out to us. Here’s what we ate:


Canadian oysters in California! Delicious and ocean salty. Still, the highlight is the crushed squash blossom mignonette. The sauce is beautiful with green and yellow-orange confetti. It is also tasty with an acidic base that complements the salty oysters.


This is rapidly becoming a signature dish of Rich Table. Big, crisp potato chips have a slender sardine fillet woven in the middle raising the question, “How do they do that?” The horseradish sauce is a perfect foil.   CAUTION: you can’t eat just one!


Another signature dish, corn fritters, has been transformed for the fall season into winter squash fritters with the sweet, creamy filling, crispy crust, and salty toasted squash seeds as a garnish.


This in no way resembles the usual bologna-like mortadella. The sausage is a silky mousse of pork laced with lardons of pork fat and bits of black garlic, a smoked and aged garlic that has a nutty, woodsy flavor.


Almost too beautiful to eat – well, almost! The salmon hides below a paper-thin tuile of saltine decorated with polka dots of yogurt and “bows” of foraged purslane. The decorations are delicious. The salmon and cucumber are superb.


Sort of a sophisticated caprese. The tomatoes multi-hued, each with its own synthesis of sweet and tart. The burrata is creamy and a notch above the usual mozzarella, even the house-made, fresh variety. Seaweed  for basil? So Japanese and so different.


Toppings for the plancha bread, done on one of the flat-top stoves, change frequently For our visit, rabbit sausage and corn were a perfect balance. Mustard served as both greens and sauce.


This unusual and beautiful pasta originated in Romagna and was rolled on a weaving comb to produce indentations before it was formed into cylinders resembling the breathing tubes of chickens (hence the name). Here it is topped with a light brown sauce faintly seasoned with tomato and the juices from lamb sausage. The sauce is perfect for dipping with bread.


The perfect bread for dipping – but also for eating by itself or with the house-made cultured butter. There are lots of excellent, famous bakeries in San Francisco – Acme, Grace, and Tartine to name a few – but this house-made bread has become another signature dish. The bread is made with a sourdough starter that has been maintained for years. The scent and subtle taste of foraged wild fennel pollen makes it unique. The butter is made from milk and culture that have been aged together for two days. Then the mix is churned. The butter is pressed and aged for another several days while the pungent buttermilk is saved for other uses. (You’ll see more about that later.)


The pasta originated in the Italian Piedmont. It is thicker than capellini but thinner than spaghetti. In Alba, a traditional dish is tajarin served with a sauce of black truffles. Thus, it is appropriate with cuitlacoche (corn smut, maize mushroom), a fungus that sometimes develops on ripening ears of corn. In Mexico it is a great delicacy and has been called “Mexican truffle”. Small wonder because it brings a chestnut color to the sauce along with a complex earthy aroma and taste which are clearly reminiscent of fresh truffles at the peak of the season.


An elegant pasta roll filled with tender rabbit and bathed with an herbal, slightly sweet sauce that makes you want more. The nasturtiums with their delicate blossoms and showy tiger stripes look too beautiful to eat, but they’re not. An elegant dish.


The bok choy and subtle ginger set an Asian note while the crunchy toasted buckwheat kernels offer an interesting contrast to the tender salmon fillets.


Delicate  rolls if pasta stuffed with a fluffy farce of pork augmented with airy egg whites and unctuous pork fat. The sweet glaze is caramelized so that the dish becomes a sophisticated pot sticker.

That’s it – only thirteen savouries, and we finished all of them. Then came dessert.


The dish came to the table resembling a drift of melon-colored snowflakes, and the first spoonfuls added to the image. Then the surprise: buried in the bottom were perfect cubes of ripe melon and a ball of melon-flavored cream made with a siphon.


So good that Susan started eating before I could take a picture, so here is an image of the fresh peach version from earlier in the season. This has become another signature offering.


The cake oozes moisture and flavor. Not too sweet, but sweet enough with the subtle flavor of seasonal plums and a poached plum on the side along with a quenelle of buttermilk ice cream, tangy and smooth as silk. The buttermilk comes as a by-product of the house-churned butter. Some by-product!

That was it! No more, though no more was needed. Clearly a tour de force of creative American cooking with overtones of French, Italian, and Japanese. Can’t wait to visit again.


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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.


Cucumber-dill mignonette


  • 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


  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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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.


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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