Hog Island!

October 25, 2009

We had been waiting on these reservations for 3 months. 3 MONTHS. My dear friends, that's worse than getting into the French Laundry. My word! But here, it's not a matter of convincing the host that you are important enough to sit at the table, it's a matter of getting the host to pick up the damn phone. Yes, well Hog Island Oyster Company is a wily one.

September 27th finds us plowing through 100F weather as we drive out to Point Reyes. Good thing the top is down. Good thing life is good. My eyes practically pop when I see the spandex warriors blazing on their bicycles. In this heat, I can only fathom a Pimm's cup.

An hour and a half north of SF, there is Point Reyes, a cape that protrudes from the California coast. Tomales bay, a very long and narrow stretch of water separates the cape from the mainland. Point Reyes is also capped at the south end by Bolinas, a lovely town of 1,246 inhabitants (incidentally, they have been wanting to secede from nation since the 60s.)

But I digress. Many good things come out of Point Reyes: Cowgirl creamery, oysters, seabeans, poets. Today we are on the hunt for oysters. And lots of them.

Point Reyes is typically cloudy and cold, but today it shines. It really is magnificent! The boats linger in the bay and in silence. The only thing you hear are the motorcyclists. I'd like to ride a motorcycle-- but not on a day like today. It's as if the heat has turned their leather outerwear into little sausage casings. "They're like a gang out here," one of us says.

We make the near fatal mistake of taking a first turn into the Tomales Bay Oyster company. (Eek! Reverse! Abort! Reverse!) . The place is crowded and hectic - I am certain I caught a wiff of Penn station somewhere in there. In retrospect I would have liked to mark up our journey on a map so that we could avoid encounters such as these.

In Marshall, ten miles north of Point Reyes, we arrive at the Hog Island oyster hole. Surprisingly, the only thing that is excessive about this place is the valet parking, which I am willing to concede. There is a picnic table held for us, equipped with a grill. We set up and our acme bread, molinari salame, Andante cheese (by biochemist turned cheese maker Soyoung Scalan), and Pimms dressings.

Ariana and I run over the giant tubs where the workers are doling out the oysters. They come in extra-small, small, and medium. They also have kumamotos, but caveat them reports of salinity in today's catch. We buy a couple dozen and a pound of clams to throw on the grill. They give us trays, gloves, lemons, tapatio, and shuckers.

The oysters are a dream to open. Ariana and Omar manage to address all of them in less than 20 minutes. We line them up on plates, our eyeballs feasting already. We pretend to comment on how nicely they were shucked and how beautiful the weather is, but give up easily. And then they disappear in to our eager bellies. One after another, some unadulterated, and some with the most mind-blowing Happy Girl spicy tomato juice (recently voted one of the top 50 things to eat in the world by The Guardian UK) and their pickled haricot verts. They were recommended for bloody marys, but I thought they would make brilliant shooters, with a bit of gin.

We also fire up the grill,
and attempt to steam our clams in foil. We are unable to start a proper fire. Slow and weak, our fire is. The clams aren't an epic fail, but a timid last compared to the chorizo and clam concoction by the table next door. Our neighbors take pity on our sad little clams and offer us some of theirs. We are grateful.

Later on we try and light a second chimney for the fire. We refuse to use lighter fluid, although I toast the coals with some gin. The coals remain tepid, but at least there are more of them now, and we grill our fresh sardines and 1 inch thick slices of salami. The grilled salami renders a bit over the flame, but ultimately bastes itself as the fat drips down.

We plate a small fish and bring it over to our charitable neighbor to give thanks. Next to his ribeyes and bottles of robust wine, I feel paupered. His eyes open wide when he sees the juicy sardine. "Are these sardines? Fresh sardines? Really? Where did you get these?" We learn that he has been searching for fresh sardines across town. I smile, "he's one of us." He accepts the plate with both hands. Seconds later, the fish is but bones.

It's getting late, both at Hog Island and here as I type in the night. We clean up and head on out. I'm getting ready to shut down my computer - teeth brushed. We head up highway 1 all the way back to the city. It is nice to see that the fog has rolled in to the bay. It cools of the city as we sleep.

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