MARSHALL, Calif.
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.

Oyster Drive
But because I didn’t have a car all these years, I’ve only had to live vicariously through Sandy’s numerous posts about oyster picnicking at Tomales Bay.

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.

Our picnic table with the largest looking medium oysters I've seen.

Our picnic table with the largest looking medium oysters I’ve seen.

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.)

Picnic Menu
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

The freshest seafood is straight from the water

The freshest seafood is straight from the water

My friend Jason firing up the grill

My friend Jason firing up the grill

The friendly staff giving a quick shucking demo

The friendly staff giving a quick shucking demo

While the grill heated up, I put together this charcuterie plate with cheese from The Pasta Shop to munch on.

While the grill heated up, I put together this charcuterie plate with cheese from The Pasta Shop to munch on.

For the BBQ oysters, I drizzled some unagi sauce

For the BBQ oysters, I drizzled some unagi sauce

My friends did all the shucking of the oysters. I tried a couple and failed to find the opening both times.

My friends did all the shucking of the oysters. I tried a couple and failed to find the opening both times.

While I wasn't much help with the shucking, I did cook up this pan of clams with white wine

While I wasn’t much help with the shucking, I did cook up this pan of clams with white wine

We drank a white wine with Torrontes grapes from Argentina. One of my favorite white wine and it worked nicely with our food.

We drank a white wine with Torrontes grapes from Argentina. One of my favorite white wine and it worked nicely with our food.

Oysters on the grill

Oysters on the grill

Tables by the water get filled first, but this weekend it wasn't a crazy scene as I heard it could be.

Tables by the water get filled first, but this weekend it wasn’t a crazy scene as I heard it could be.

The best way to enjoy the oysters was still to eat them raw. I made a mignonette with vinegar and shallots that elevated them to restaurant quality.

The best way to enjoy the oysters was still to eat them raw. I made a mignonette with vinegar and shallots that elevated them to restaurant quality.

For my first time, I really lucked out on the weather. Warm but not hot, sunny just to put the sparkle in the water. Wouldn't anything taste great with this view?

For my first time, I really lucked out on the weather. Warm but not hot, sunny just to put the sparkle in the water. Wouldn’t anything taste great with this view?

 

8 Responses to Fresh Oysters, Friends, and a View at Tomales Bay Oyster Co.

  1. Great pics as always. These would go well with my pseudo-diet.

  2. hungry dog says:

    Love this place and love this post! I think this is the best place to enjoy oysters, though the drive feels long. Your spread looks incredible. Nice work on the clams! And congrats on your new car.

    • Ben Ben says:

      The drive actually didn’t feel that long to me, maybe because we left super early and avoided traffic, and my car is such a sweet ride, I enjoyed it. 🙂 I would say the only part that felt tiring was the section with all the winding roads. I kept saying to my friends they should have just cut a tunnel through the redwoods. Just kidding!

  3. Row says:

    It’s been ages since I’ve had raw oysters… wah! Those oysters and clams look so good and fresh. Equally stunning is the charcuterie plate. Yum!

  4. Tara says:

    You guys did an awesome job! I really wished I liked oysters so I can enjoy this experience, but I guess I need to work on one seafood at a time. 🙂

    That cheese plate is calling my name though.