since the inception of the big eats by 7x7 (an insider guide to best of SF) in 2009, hog island oysters co. has been a regular feature in 100 things to try before you die in san francisco where in 2009 and 2010 for their clam chowder and in 2011 for sweetwater oysters. the first time i've heard of this place was from food network's best thing i ever ate - obsession edition as recommended by tyler florence for the fresh kumamoto oysters on the half shell. that was when hog island's oysters joined my wishlist of restaurants.
the first time we saw hog island oyster company was during my second visit to san francisco with ryan. we had to pass it up then since we were uber stuffed from brunch (sadly) but was determined to come try this place on our next trip there. that's how we ended up finding ourselves waiting in line a month ago (yup, this post is a lil overdue) for a table. waiting in line seems to be a common scene for this restaurant but the good thing was the line moved pretty quickly.
there were outdoor seating which i was not too keen on that day although dining with the beautiful background of the bay/pier was tempting. it was too chilly and i didn't feel like eating with my jacket on. the interior of the restaurant itself had a nautical theme - kinda what i'd expect the ambience of a seafood place to be, with lights streaming in from the bay through the glass windows. right in the middle of the restaurant, there is a communal dining table surrounding a shucking station where you can watch the chefs continuously shucking fresh oysters as the orders came pouring in. there were a few other tables that filled the dining space. the restaurant is accented by black&white fishing themed pictures that gave it nostalgic feel. i like the feel of the place :)
while we were waiting in line, a friendly waitstaff came over and handed us a menu so we could figure out what to eat as well as offered to take drink orders. after about 20 minutes, we finally got our table and i was excited that we got a spot at the communal table where i could see the chefs at work. we placed our order and they started the meal with some fresh warm bread with some butter which was great cos i was starving at this point. lol.
okay, so both ryan and i are not fans of fresh oysters but we do enjoy lightly cooked oysters. since hog island oyster co. is well known for, you know, oysters (i mean...namesake!), we wanted to try one of the baked variety. we were torn between this bagna cauda for what we think would be a great combination of flavors or the simple citrus oysters but based on our server's recommendation, we opted for the former.
when the dish of four oysters came to the table, the oysters were swimming in butter/own juice in its half shell. i couldn't wait to dig into one. however, we were sorta let down because the garlic butter was overpowering and we were searching for the flavors of capers and anchovy. one good thing was i could still taste a hint of the natural sweetness and freshness of the oysters through all that - as some ppl would describe as it tastes like the sea. i decided that i would try my second oyster with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice which actually did wonders in freshening up the flavors. it needed a better balance of the garlic butter with the rest of the ingredients but not bad overall.
grilled cheese sandwich | mezzo secco . cave-aged gruyere . formage blanc . house made pickles . ($14)
i never thought i'd ever order a grilled cheese sandwich at a seafood restaurant but several yelpers swears it to be one of the best they've ever had hence the exception. a few great things that the sandwich had going was the fact that most of the ingredients came establishments within the ferry building itself - the soft focacia-like bread from acme bread and the trio of fresh cheeses from cowgirl creamery.
imagine all these ingredients coming together and grilled on a cast iron pan to give it that crisp crust that encases the creamy meltiness of the cheese oozing out from between the soft bread. the good combination of cheeses gave it a subtle bitterness that melded with the savoriness - exuding richness but suprisingly light and satisfying to the taste buds. this was definitely awesome stuff. the pickled vegetables however wasn't as pleasant - too much of the dill vinegar-y flavor that it didn't really matter that they pickled a myriad of vegetables cos they all tasted the same - just vinegar. ryan said that this was a solid delicious grilled cheese sandwich although not the best since his favorite is what he grew up as a kid. i personally really liked their rendition of the dish.
clam chowder | manila clams . aromatic vegetables . bacon . potatoes . cream . ($14)
the dish that i wanted to try the most from hog island oyster co. - their popular clam chowder. if you are thinking of a thick, creamy clam chowder with bits of clam meat, you're up for a suprise. when the bowl of chowder was served at our table, the bowl swimming with a generous portion of manila clams, still in their shells. my first spoonful of chowder was greeted by the smokiness and saltiness of the bacon, to which the natural sweetness of the clams' natural juices followed and was finally rounded by the creaminess. this was definitely a lighter version of the clam chowder we are used to but it was at the same time had satisfying layers and depths of flavor you would expect from a clam chowder. i began to understand how it made it to the 100 things to try before you die in sf list by 7x7 SF.
the one thing that was a pet peeve to ryan is also what's great about it is the clams in shell. it is quite a hassle to have to deal with the shells which honestly wasn't much work plus i love the fresh whole clam meat. the potatoes were cooked through and also functioned to thickened the chowder a tad. we both loved it and thought it rivaled the best clam chowder we've ever had.
disclaimer this is written based on my personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others