There’s an old rule that the best months to eat oysters are the ones that end with “r,” such as September, October, November and December. That’s because oysters develop and taste best when the waters are cold.
But in the Bay Area, we can enjoy raw oysters year-round because our temperate cool waters make it ideal for farming oysters. One rule that I’m going to follow moving forward, though, is that oysters are best when you eat them straight from the water.
One of the more popular ways to do that is at an oyster farm, such as the Tomales Bay Oyster Co. in the North Bay (just north of Point Reyes Station). I’ve wanted to eat raw oysters here for years, ever since I first read about it in my friend Sandy’s blog, Foodhoe Foraging.
No more, after getting a car a couple of months ago, one of the first trips I had in mind was the hour drive to Tomales Bay for oysters. This past weekend, I rounded up a couple of friends and we left early from San Francisco to beat the notorious crowds.
At peak months, it’s recommended that you get there between 10 and 10:30 a.m. to get a prime choice of the picnic tables with grills. (There is a reserved area close to the water for parties of 10 or larger.) Luckily for us, this past weekend was on the calmer side as most people were busy preparing for the holidays.
Once we picked a nice table with a view of the waters, we went to purchase our oysters. They come in various sizes and are sold by the dozens or a 50-c0unt bag. We bought a bag of medium oysters ($60) and a 2-lb. bag of clams, too. ($15) (You can also get shucking knives by putting down a $10 deposit, and they’ll give you a quick demo if it’s your first time.)
As my friends Tat and Jason got busy shucking oysters, I worked on a charcuterie and cheese plate with items I brought along from the Pasta Shop in Oakland, including manchego cheese, prosciutto, coppa and soppresata calabrese.
We had our oysters raw, of course, a variety of ways – with cocktail sauce and horseradish, with just a squeeze of lemon, or with a home-made mignonette I made with a floral vinegar, minced shallots and fresh ground black pepper. We put a few oysters on the grill to barbeque, which was nice to have them piping hot (I also brushed unagi sauce for an Asian BBQ flavor.)
For the clams, I brought a covered sautéed pan along with diced onions, and simply cooked the clams on the grill by sautéing the onions in butter and then adding the clams with a splash of white wine. The clams had so much natural salt water in them that they seasoned themselves and created such a fragrant sauce. It was a simple preparation but the fresh clams made me seem like a genius chef to my friends.
Along with the milder crowds, we also lucked out with the weather, which was a perfect fall day with temperatures in the mid to high 60s. Dining al fresco on raw oysters that were plumped with sea water was everything I imagined. I can’t wait to plan my next trip to Tomales Bay.
Tomales Bay Oyster Co., 15479 Highway One, Marshall, Calif. PH: 415.663.1242. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reservations available for parties of 10 or more. Cash only. tomalesbayoysters.com
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