A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to eat lots and lots of oysters. And not just any oysters, but great, big, fresh oysters that were harvested just a few hours or minutes before I bought them. If either of you know the geography of the San Francisco Bay area, at the base of the Point Reyes peninsula, there is a little bay named after Sir Francis Drake. At the end of a long driveway, paved with oyster shells no less, is a place, no more than a few shacks, that used to be called Johnson’s Oyster Farm. Now it goes by a more elegant name, Drakes Bay Family Farms, but the oysters come from the same, incredibly clean, estuary of the Pacific Ocean, just north of San Francisco Bay.
I would drive out to the farm along some of the most scenic roads in the Bay area, usually on Saturday mornings, leaving early to miss the worst of the weekend traffic. From the San Rafael Bridge, all the way out to the oyster farm along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, the physical beauty of the area was astounding. Even on the very common rainy, foggy days, it was hauntingly beautiful. And it all led to something quite special: fresh oysters from one of the most pristine oyster beds in the world. They have gone upscale, but it used to be a casual operation, where you just wandered in and asked for whatever size oyster you felt like. I usually got the mediums or smalls for eating raw. It was an incredible pleasure to eat those briny, sweet gems. I made the mistake once of getting the extra-large oysters, and it was a challenge to eat even one! They were best consumed by barbecuing or sautéing those monsters. I have had better oysters in my life, but nothing compares to the synergy of a beautiful drive to a beautiful place to buy amazingly fresh, great-tasting oysters.
I thought of this because last night I had a simple meal of a dozen excellent oysters with a sort of mignonette sauce (I used cider vinegar). I also lured a prowling 16-year-old with the promise of some Tabasco sauce on an oyster or two. By the way, the contrast is great! The tartness of the mignonette matches the heat of the hot sauce. And with it, I drank a smoky Scotch whiskey. They went very nicely together. But I didn’t fly to California to get these oysters. They were Blue Points from New York, and they were excellent, with a great briny flavor from the liquor and a surprisingly mild and sweet taste from the flesh of the little buggers. And every time I have a Blue Point, I think also of the huge oyster industry in the waters around New York City* that lasted for hundreds of years, until the accumulated pollution of the largest metropolitan area in the country overwhelmed even the amazingly resilient and tough oyster. Hopefully, they will return in my lifetime, but until then, I will resign myself to the awful fate of eating Blue Points from the Great South Bay.
*The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell