In Northern California or the San Francisco Bay area? Looking for a special food experience? Cross the Golden Gate bridge and head to Hog Island Oyster Company, on Tomales Bay in West Marin County.
I was excited to be going to Marin County–even better because I was going to visit with longtime friends, Ginna and David. Then, Ginna upped the ante: “Do you like fresh oysters?” Yes, I do! “Great! You’re in for a treat,” she said. Since she’s a true foodie, I knew I was in good hands.
Can a Midwest girl love oysters?
Now, I didn’t always appreciate oysters. Does anyone who was born and raised in the land-locked Midwest? Fresh seafood was pretty much restricted to the perch and blue gills that my dad occasionally caught, coated with cornmeal and fried crispy. Other than that, it was fish sticks from the freezer. So the idea of swallowing something slimy was beyond disgusting. Incomprehensible.
Then I moved to Seattle and discovered what I had been missing. Oysters were only $1 each during Happy Hours. What better way to learn? My oyster habit began. I developed a palate for the different kinds, always looking forward to the briny taste. Washed them down with white wine. I could have had them every day.
Hog Bay Heaven
Back to Hog Bay…I was ready well before our departure time. We arrived in time to snag one of the last parking spots. Fresh oysters and picnic fare are available daily to take away. There was a constant line at the little Hog Shack.
A second option is the Shuck-Your-Own picnic. Book a table, buy the oysters, and Hog Bay Oyster Company supplies the tools and grills. Sounds like too much work, but those tables were packed!
We went for “no-effort” at The Boat Oyster Bar. An upended wooden boat serves as the serving center, where shuckers are working efficiently to turn out orders. It’s also the bar, so servers are in constant motion, picking up food and drinks for hungry patrons. Under a perfect blue sky, we were seated at a communal wooden table and began an unforgettable meal.
Then…the reason we came: raw oysters. The three of us practically inhaled the first batch and agreed we wouldn’t be satisfied unless we had a second order. To celebrate the special day, we shared a bottle of champagne. Honestly, does it get any better than that?
Then, there’s the fact that oysters are nutritious. An oyster contains close to 2 grams of protein. A serving of 6 oysters contains about 60 calories, with only about 2 grams of fat. Oysters are low in cholesterol and rich in zinc, iron, calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin A. (And let’s not forget the vitamin C from the lemon we squeeze on!)
A bit about oyster farming
Oysters eggs start out invisible to the naked eye. The hatched larvae are non-stop algae eaters. They will grow 1-1.5 inches in a year and be ready to eat when they are 18-24 months old. They are held in mesh bags on racks in the bay–a French method–to give them more access to the phytoplankton they love, to make harvesting easier, and to protect the bottom of the bay. An oyster can filter 50-60 gallons of water every day, keeping the water clean and attracting fish and other marine life.
Because farmers can monitor the growth of their oysters, they can be harvested–without dredging–when they are at their best. This is sustainable and responsible. In fact, Hog Island Oyster Company has earned B Corporation status, a certification awarded to companies that meet stringent social and environmental standards. There are only 1800 other qualifying companies in the world, including Patagonia, Etsy, and Ben & Jerry’s.
If you go…
Reservations are required; don’t even think about making the drive on a whim. And the Hog Bay Oyster Bar is only open from 11am to 5pm, Friday-Monday . No dinner. To accommodate the demand, reservations are for 90 minutes. You’ll want to allow plenty of time to arrive–parking is tight and you may need to find a spot on the side of the road. But once you’re there, buy a beer or glass of wine and relax. While waiting for your table, which you’ll be sharing with others, listen to the thumping of the oysters as they are unloaded from their baskets and sorted by “farmers” right next to the dining area. Stroll by the water tanks holding the day’s harvest. This is a full-on operation!
Hog Island Oyster Company has a handy location in the Ferry Building in the Embarcadero in San Francisco, but do the right thing: Find transportation to Marshall, about 90 minutes away. Trust me on this.
20215 Shoreline Highway
Marshall, CA 94940
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