There’s a widely-held belief in the restaurant world that you can have a view, and you can have great food, but you can’t have both. That’s why Hog Island Oyster Co., a Ferry Building staple, has always been a draw for me — it’s one of the few waterfront eateries where this belief is proven wrong.
The popular spot’s undergone some changes in the last year — the dining area, spacious and open to the bay, was remodeled and expanded, and a new chef and cocktail program were introduced.
Of course, you come here for the oysters, and you’ll still get the same superlative, perfectly shucked shellfish that have been Hog Island’s pride for years. From signature Sweetwaters to mild, meaty Rappahannocks, the oysters here are so exquisitely fresh they need no accompaniments other than their own brine and perhaps a tiny squeeze of lemon. And of course, something to wash them down with. There’s a fine (and very affordable) selection of bubbles and whites — some classics, some less mainstream varietals (Pigato! Txacholina!) — but I was keen to try the hard stuff.
The bar is run by Saul Ranella. Cocktail gurus Scott Beattie and Michael Jack Pazdon designed the drink list, which features fresh, seasonal creations full of local flavor.
The Marshall Mule is a zippy tequila and ginger sipper with a touch of Ancho Reyes for a peppery kick, but my heart belongs to the San Andreas’ Fault, a spicy, savory combination of Averna and rye whiskey with a fresh burst of mint from Hog Island’s own gardens.
Chef Christopher Laramie, formerly of Berkeley’s Brasa and eVe, kept some old favorites on the menu — the divine grilled cheese and elegant clam chowder have long been my go-to San Francisco comfort food dishes, and I’d have wept bitter tears had they been altered or replaced.
Some of his new dishes have proven craveable enough to make their way into my pantheon of favorites, including pork sliders — melting hunks of pork belly grilled to a smoky char, set on sweet buns bedded with crunchy slaw and chipotle aioli. Beautifully browned crab-filled hush puppies are so moist they only want a tiny dab of creamy tartar sauce to cool down their warm, buttery corn flavor.
Boquerones, my favorite small plate, exudes simple Spanish sophistication. Anchovy filets lounge on baguette slices slathered with bright piquillo aioli and topped with chopped egg and a dollop of chimichurri-like herb sauce.
Grilled oysters deliver big punches of flavor in little shells. Swimming in butter, the Bernaise oysters sing with the bracing tang of vinegar and fresh tarragon, while the Stout oysters hum with mellow chocolate maltiness from Magnolia’s Oysterhead brew and touches of molasses and Worcestershire.
Other dishes didn’t quite come together. The breaded and fried anchovy “croutons” on the Little Gem Caesar are a stroke of genius, but my salad was sloppily dressed, leaving most of the leaves completely dry. The oyster Po’ Boy was mainly bread and slaw, a shame because the bites that did include plump cornmeal-crusted oysters exploded with flavor.
Steamers with sausage, garbanzos and greens made for a tasty bowl of clams, and I look forward to new preparations as the seasons change. There’s still no better place to watch the days get longer than on the water with a plate of Hog Island’s oysters. And now, a cocktail or two.
Hog Island Oyster Co.
Location: 1 Ferry Building 11A, The Embarcadero, S.F.
Contact: (415) 391-7117, www.hogislandoysters.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays
Recommended dishes: Boquerones ($7), stout grilled oysters ($13), bernaise grilled oysters ($13), hush puppies ($11), pork belly sliders ($13), chowder ($14), grilled cheese sandwich ($12), raw oysters ($18-$64)
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted