Wednesday, November 2, 2011

On the half shell

We went on a little adventure up the coast this past weekend.  It was my special someone's birthday and I planned a relaxing few days in Bodega Bay.  But what made me pick Bodega Bay was actually an area about 20 miles south of it: Tomales Bay.  If you like oysters and live in the Bay Area, you should know about Tomales Bay and specifically Hog Island Oysters.  There is also Tomales Bay Oyster Company for those who want options!  We LOVE oysters on the half shell.  Actually prefer them over grilled/cooked oysters!  So I made my reservations at Hog Island before I decided where we were going to stay in the area!  Fortunately, there are many options right up the coast.
Un-shucked Sweetwater Oysters from Hog Island Oyster Farm
Perfect, and ready to down!

Along with wine, avocados, Dungeness crab, artichokes, olallieberries, garlic, Thomas Keller and sourdough bread, oysters can also join this list of "California does it better".  I love West Coast oysters and the ones from Tomales Bay are fantastic.  I'd been waiting years to get to the Farm (and was excited to disguise it as a birthday stop for my man!)
There is a lot of construction going on right now as they expand (notice far right)
If you just want to eat Hog Island Oysters, you can go to the Ferry Building in San Francisco or the Oxbow Market in Napa.  Sit at the bar, order them shucked with a glass of white wine and some crunchy French bread and you're good to go!  But if you want a different, more hands-on and memorable experience - head across the Golden Gate bridge and up Highway 1 about 45 minutes north of the city and you'll be at the Hog Island Oyster Farm.
If you're shucking - buy your oysters here (for shucked, around the corner at The Boat Bar)
Clams and oysters for sale today
The oysters are about half as much if you shuck yourself!
It's sort of shi-shi, rustic here.  Where hipsters and yuppies can break bread (and oyster shells) while sitting astride picnic tables and chatting each other up.  I might wager a guess that this is the only business in Marshall, CA that has a valet out front (for strictly practical reasons tho, not the glam factor).  However, we rolled in on a Friday afternoon which is still rather light, and said hello to the valet after we parked our own car right in front.  We checked with him upon leaving and he'd parked 8 cars, but was planning for 3-4 times that, come weekend...

Here's how picnicking at Hog Island works...

[Because I am a foodie and a thorough/organized perfectionist] I packed up half my kitchen and trekked it all to our picnic table.  I had originally made a reservation (they book up THREE months in advance on weekends!) but since it was so light that Friday, we didn't really end up keeping it.  We checked in at the bar, picked a picnic table and started setting up our food-stuffs.  When I said rustic, I meant rustic.  There is no indoor place to eat.  You either buy shucked oysters and sit at a picnic table to eat them, or you buy unshucked oysters and sit at a picnic table to eat them.

With all the gear you could possibly need...
It got very easy very quickly!
But we were there for the experience.  We got a quick lesson in shucking, then opened a tab at the oyster bar and dug into some small Sweetwater oysters!  Shucking was not difficult after the first 2-3 and the oysters were delicious.  Smooth, plump and creamy...  I made a shallot jalapeño mignonette which went over VERY well with the birthday boy.  We managed to break into 36 oysters - I think we beat some personal records, but once you start you just don't want to stop!

Get in my tummy please!!
Brought other picnicky items and ended up making them into a fantastic grilled cheese sammie!
Forgot to get an "after" shot: Gruyère & St. Andre cheeses, tomatoes and prosciutto!
On this particular October Friday, the weather was PER-FECT.  In typical California coastal weather fashion, Fall is beautiful and clear.  The sun was warm while the air was cool.  Music flitted past the tables.  As we shucked and ate and BBQed, you can't help but befriend your neighboring picnickers.  We didn't want to start our own BBQ but were able to toast a grilled cheese sammie on our friendly neighbors' after chatting for a while.  It was all very pleasant and nice.

Making friends, shucking oysters, enjoying the sun, pigging out...
A shucking master now?...
I came prepared (as I frequently do...)
So what do you need if you go on an oyster picnic?  I highly recommend the following:
  • shallot jalapeño mignonette (recipe below), lemons, hot sauce, horseradish
  • a chilled Riesling and (real!) wine glasses - don't forget your corkscrew
  • crusty bread (ciabatta, French or sourdough)
  • your favorite cheeses (I brought Gruyère and St. Andre triple creme)
  • meats (prosciutto, salami, deli meats)
  • veggies (tomatoes, carrot sticks)
  • fruit (melons, berries, apples)
  • cookies or brownies (I brought homemade crispy oatmeal chocolate chip)
  • since we ended up grilling our cheese sandwich, I also had tin foil, Dijon mustard, salt & pepper, olive oil
  • knives for spreading and cutting, small forks for the oysters, spoons for the sauces
  • tablecloth, napkins or paper towels
  • wet wipes and a plastic bag for transporting dirty items home
Shallot Jalapeño Mignonette:
1/3 cup champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin (sweet cooking sake)
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 large shallot, finely diced
1/2 - 1 teaspoons (per your taste) seeded Jalapeño pepper, minced

Combine all together and serve with oysters.  Will keep for a long time in the fridge (up to a month).  
If you don't have the mirin, it's fine to opt out.


  1. A lovely place! I'd love to eat there.



  2. dude, you're amazing. sounds (and looks) like you did your usual fantastic job being the hostess withe the mostest. what a lucky birthday boy he is!

  3. Great post! What do they provide there? I've been to Tomales Bay Oyster Co. and they just have picnic tables, but don't provide any shucking tools, etc.

  4. D - they provide the shucking knife and glove, but I think they've been known to run out on busy weekends. There are BBQs there but you need to bring your own charcoal/lighter fluid. I believe they sell charcoal too (tho also might run out). Hope that helps! Their website should have some deets too!

  5. How cool! If I ate oysters, I would totally want to go there after reading your blog. :)

  6. Very nice. I used to go to Hog island for oysters almost every year. I remember way back as a youngster riding in my parents station wagon thinking how cool the white road was going in and learning they paved it with crushed shells. The last time I was up there years ago, I left with a crate of oysters to shuttle back for a house party. Seeing your post makes me want to get back there soon.

  7. A lovely place! I'd love to live there.

  8. Delicious looking! Have been dying to go there since it's near to SF! Let me know what you think of my blog:

  9. Hey Lisa,

    So glad I stumbled across this post, this is the perfect surprise birthday trip for my dad.