Take Me Back to Tomales

Roughly one year ago, in my inaugural post for Our Life in Meals, I wrote about visiting a Tomales Bay oyster farm for do-it-yourself oyster shucking and barbecuing (An open mind, and mouth, for oysters).  Despite my reticence then to eat raw oysters, I embraced what I saw as a challenge and enjoyed myself thoroughly, vowing to return.  A year later, I found myself back in the same place, with the same group (plus one), and with a whole lot of food experiences and adventures under my belt.

This time, I didn’t fear the raw oyster.  Instead, I looked forward to a beautiful afternoon in West Marin.  I’d eat a raw oyster or two, eat a few more from the grill, and enjoy a picnic among good friends.  For Jan, Lucy, and me, it was our chance to introduce a new experience to Robert, who eagerly anticipated the adventure. And we’d make this a picnic to remember, since we considered ourselves oyster pros after doing this once before. Knowing the setup at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company, our drive north from San Francisco included a grocery stop in Mill Valley, where we could buy the needed supplies. Our list included:

  • Charcoal
  • Matches
  • Plastic cups
  • Corn on the cob
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Malt vinegar
  • French bread
  • Brie wedge
  • Grapes and apples
  • Hot links and Italian sausage
  • White wine
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Gallon of water

Though it was an overcast day, it didn’t seem to have any effect on the numbers of people already at Tomales Bay Oyster Company when we arrived.  Everywhere I looked, tables were full, glasses were clinking, and charcoals were hot on the grills.

Jan and Lucy headed toward the water to buy the oysters, and soon returned with two dozen  medium-sized oysters.

Last year, owner Tod Friend was nice enough to lend us an oyster-shucking knife, after we showed him the pitiful excuse for one we’d picked up at Sur La Table.  This time, we were prepared with our own supplies, which we gathered ahead of time, not wanting to leave it up to chance what we found at Safeway:

  • Oyster-shucking knife (a proper one this time) and gloves
  • Pocketknife
  • Corkscrew
  • Giant bottle of Tapatío

I got to work shucking the oysters, as Lucy and Robert concocted a sauce to top the raw oysters containing vinegar, onions, garlic, and lemon juice.  We placed a few of the oysters directly on the grill, as their shells would pop open when they were ready.

We had everything we needed, with the only additions I would bring for a third trip to Tomales being a vinyl tablecloth (must be red and white checkered), and napkins.  But thanks to the communal spirit of others at the picnic area, our table neighbors shared their supply of napkins with us and we didn’t get too messy.

We talked and ate as we went along shucking oysters, pulling items off the grill when they were cooked, finally sitting down for a toast together.

As we sat, enjoying the grilled corn on the cob, the sausages, bread, cheese, and fruit, there was a moment when I feared the afternoon wouldn’t be as idyllic as I’d planned: another group at the picnic tables far exceeded their alcohol limit and were looking to start a fight with anyone and everyone nearby. But in an instant, the situation was diffused, and everyone was back to minding their own picnics.  We all just wanted to eat our oysters in peace.

We bought another dozen oysters, this time purchasing the small-sized oysters.  As the smaller oysters were younger, they tasted sweeter, though another thing to keep in mind was that their small size required splitting open before placing directly on the grill.

After we were completely stuffed, we cleaned up our table and headed back to the car. A bit of sun was peeking through the clouds by this time, and we stopped in Point Reyes Station to explore the town and find ice cream cones.

Though all the food from the day had been delicious, we felt satisfied, agreeing that it could be a while before any of us ate another oyster. As we drove the winding roads back into the city, we agreed on May 2012 for oysters, round three.

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