I love you, Oysters!
On a clear, sunny afternoon in San Francisco, which can happen quite often here, there is a pervasive thought that always enters my mind before all else.
“Hmm… yo quiero oysters. Is it Monday or Thursday?”
At the Ferry Building, overlooking what is now considered to be the rather suspect but still gorgeous Bay Bridge, is Hog Island Oyster Company. For such a popular restaurant, they sure made this place small. I’m sure that the original “Hog Island Oyster Company” didn’t suspect that their branch in San Francisco would do as well as it has, and didn’t plan accordingly. This little restaurant is invaded by tourists and locals alike, looking for some of the freshest oysters available to California. With indoor and outdoor seating, it can be enjoyed year-round, and with some of the most expensive (and expansive) views of the beautiful San Francisco Bay.
The oysters here are fresh. In fact, Hog Island consistently delivers some of the freshest oysters I have had in San Francisco. They also shuck them perfectly; I don’t think I’ve ever had to pluck a rogue shell piece from my mouth while eating here (pet peeve of mine). Oysters are generally $2-$2.50 per piece, and are served atop ice. Delicious.
Strangely enough, you have to ask for fresh horseradish as I have never found that they offer it to you. For an oyster restaurant, this strikes me as extremely odd. With prime rib and oysters, isn’t horseradish an expected condiment? For me personally, horseradish and tabasco are non-negotiable!
Now, in San Francisco, there is one staple food item that you have to try. To try it is to love it, and this is Acme Bread. Hog Island serves Acme bread, which has got to be fresh considering Acme Bread has its store in the same Ferry Building. This bread, along with the butter served, is a perfect filler prior to, and during your oyster gorging session. In fact, it was eating here that I admitted to myself that I am, indeed, a “bread whore”.
I am. I admit it. And Acme is my drug. Combined with fresh oysters, you can figure out why I would opt to consider this as a justifiable petty cash spending….on a weekly basis.
Now, what is less known is that Hog Island has Happy Hours on Mondays and Thursday. This means that every Monday and Thursday, from 5-7 pm precisely, one selected oyster is available for $1 each, which is at the very least a 50% discount from their original prices. Some of their drinks also go on special and are available for $4-5. Great idea, sure. But it requires a week of planning to decide who will get there by 4 pm to stand in an exorbitantly long line in order to secure seating during this 5-7 pm window. The line often goes out the door, and my longest wait there has been up to two hours. It’s almost not worth it; keyword is “almost”.
I’ve had the steamed clams, clam chowder, seafood platter and grilled cheese sandwich here, too. All of them were extraordinarily good, but that grilled cheese is sin on a platter. The seafood platter, only available on weekends, comes with some fresh, lightly boiled shrimp that is simply amazing – and if you’re lucky, your shrimp will come attached with hundreds of little roe. Lovely. The clam chowder is delicious, but it’s a lighter version of what I know to be clam chowder, and appreciate about clam chowder. It wasn’t my favorite, but it was good.
What really takes away from Hog Island Oyster Company is the service.
Service lacks all-around. I have found one or two oyster shucking men who were pleasant enough but overall, the waitresses are rude and curt. There is a host there who I personally find nice enough, but I know many people who don’t want to go because of that man and his God-complex. (Now in my case, when I am waiting in line for two hours, he does begin to look like God, so perhaps I am more tolerant of his misguided beliefs – I’m not sure.) If service was friendly at Hog Island, I’d have given them the highest rating, but unfortunately, I have frequented this place for years, and service has always been sub-par, at best.
Due to being next to the water, and because San Francisco is what it is, the weather can change from warm to cold in an instant here. If you intend to eat on the patio, I suggest you bring layers to keep yourself warm. Aside from the warmest of days in San Francisco, it will become cold in the afternoon regardless of how sunny it is, and the jacket will be vital to your enjoyment of this experience.
Unfortunately, short of driving up the coastline for over an hour to a small town called Marshall, CA where Hog Island’s oyster farm is located, this location at the Ferry Building is all that is available, and frankly, this makes the small irritation of receiving sub-stellar service for high costs worthwhile, to a degree. Besides, there is true value to the view. Eating fresh oysters on the patio while overlooking clear skies and blue waters has definite value.
This is most definitely one of those things that you HAVE to try when visiting San Francisco.
And what do you know… it’s Monday today, 2:22 pm. A little over 2.5 hours and I will be slurping up some yummy goodness along with those addictive Acme bread chunks. This might be the only reason to love Mondays!
Addictive Factor: 6/10
Overall Rating: 8.15/10