I was just about to post an Instagram photo when I noticed two little words at the top of my phone.
Not only-one-bar, or the dreaded E, but no service. Zip, zero.
Wait a second. We moved from rural Kentucky to California, right? And you are telling me we don’t have service here.
We were headed to Marshall, California. A small community in Marin County, tucked inside the Tomales Bay. After some twists and turns, carefully passing an entire Tour de France of cyclers, and smiling back at enough happy dairy cows to supply my morning coffee for years, we reached our destination – Hog Island Oyster Farm.
It turns out you don’t need cell service. You don’t need anything at all in this patch of paradise except oysters, lemon, butter, hot sauce and maybe some wine.
A visit to Hog Island was among the many tips we received when we announced – we’re moving to the East Bay. I was introduced to their oysters a few years ago when I visited San Francisco, but this, this is different.
This is the farm. This is rural California in all its glory. And as my husband and I said to each other a few minutes after we arrived – this is why you live here.
There are two options for diners at Hog Island. You can order raw oysters shucked for you at The Boat along with bread, cheese and wine or beer, and take a seat at one of the shared picnic tables (first come, first served).
Your other option is to reserve one of the (5, I think) picnic tables many weeks in advance. With my husband’s birthday in mind, I made a reservation for the end of February back in early January. Here you have a grill and a table to yourself. You bring along your picnic and grilling gear, extra eats, and wine or beer.
Oysters can be purchased near the entrance. You shuck them yourself, and then eat the delicious suckers raw or toss them on the grill. They provide shucking gear, lemon, hot sauce, freshly grated horseradish and Hog Wash (rice vinegar, shallot, jalapeno, cilantro and lime juice.) I’ll add that you are free to order anything from The Boat as well including oysters already shucked for you.
My tip – reserve a picnic table and get the early time slot.
We arrived at 10:30 and were among the first guests there on a Saturday morning. The tranquility of the area set the stage for our entire day. It was absolutely amazing.After soaking it all in, we headed over to buy our oysters.
I’ve never been a huge raw oyster fan. That was before I had a Hog Island oyster straight out of the tank, shucked for me. It tasted like the bay – light, salty, and refreshing. We ordered the Atlantics to eat raw, and the small oysters to put on the grill.
Two things I learned during our trip – 1) I cannot shuck an oyster to save my life, and 2) I love grilled oysters!
Fortunately, my husband was up for the challenge of shucking them all. And a challenge it was. It takes a lot of strength and just the right angle, something I couldn’t master in 3 hours.
If one were to shuck an oyster correctly (from what I understand), you would place oyster cup side down and insert the tip of the shucking knife into the pointed end at the hinge. Once the ligament pops, you slide the knife in along the inside of the top, flat shell and pop it off. Slide the knife under the meat to release it from the shell and remove any pieces of shell that might have broken off.
After gathering a few tips from the staff, we topped our open oysters with a little butter and placed them on the heated charcoal grill. Once the edges of the oyster began to brown we took them off with tongs, topped them with hot sauce and lemon juice, and ate them with a fork. Raw oysters are good, but the grilled are now my favorite.
After filling ourselves with oysters and sourdough bread, we were left with enough time to watch the water (my very favorite pastime), and take in what was around us. The area got crowded by lunchtime, but it was much less so than I was expecting. I’m sure it would be different in the summer. I’m also sure we will find out personally because we will be back a few more times this year. It may be the only time I actually look forward to seeing the words – No Service.