I read someplace that there are more oyster places on Tomales Bay than there are gas stations. I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I didn’t come to Tomales Bay to count gas stations. I came for grilled oysters, so (to be safe) I filled the tank in Petaluma. I even peed in Petaluma so I wouldn’t have to be on the lookout for a gas station for its other great purpose. I came for oysters straight from the cool clean waters of Tomales Bay. I knew I didn’t want to be distracted by any superfluous activities.
When it comes to oysters, I’ve always considered myself a purist. I like raw and flawless. If I’m lucky enough to get them straight out of the water (as you do in Tomales Bay) then I don’t even bother with mignonette sauce. Raw oysters served that fresh, have always been the height of my oyster obsession. I’ve certainly enjoyed fried oysters in my po’ boys and the creamy oyster stew from Antoine’s in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Both are classic preparations that I’ve even tried to recreate at home. But to me “cooked” oysters– like barbecued, grilled or even baked– were always a second choice. Something inlanders had to settle for because they couldn’t always get quality oysters.
In other words, for most of my life, I’ve been an oyster snob. Then some years ago I read a quote from James Beard: “Many gourmets, or so-called gourmets, tell you that to eat an oyster in any fashion except directly from the shell is to show ignorance of gastronomic tradition and the rules of good taste. This is nonsense.”
Yes really. In Tomales Bay, grilled oysters are a local specialty. A specialty they take seriously. All of the oyster shacks that line the bay do some version of grilled oysters – and they always have. I bet even the gas stations might be able to serve up a pretty good version. Because the oysters in Tomales Bay are that good.
You’ll find grilled oysters in Tomales Bay at a lot of places. Some are well-known like Hog Island Oysters and Tomales Bay Oyster Company. Others are smaller and perched less conspicuously at the end of rickety looking piers such as Boat Shack at Nick’s Cove. My particular favorite is The Marshall Store. They have several choices of grilled oysters to try including BBQ, Bacon and Worcestershire, Rockefeller, and Chorizo Butter.
It’s hard to choose a favorite, so I won’t, but I do like the Grilled Oysters with Chorizo Butter. The spiced butter smooths out the oysters’ sharp brininess and the chorizo offers a hint of sweet smoke.
Since I can’t always make the 8‑hour drive to Tomales Bay, I’ve attempted my own version of Grilled Oysters with Chorizo Butter. Let me stress that this is not the same recipe as you’ll get at The Marshall Store. I suspect they use Mexican chorizo. Spanish-style, cured chorizo works too and I find it easier to work with– so that’s where I started with this recipe.
My version of Grilled Oysters with Chorizo Butter is delicious, but there’s nothing quite like an oyster roadtrip. Going to the source reminds us to appreciate our oceans and to take care of them so that they can continue to provide the tasty tidbits I love so much. Of course, going to the source also means you’ll be enjoying the freshest, most delicious oysters imaginable.
Ken and I recently set out for the Mendocino coast. A stop at The Marshall Store was a high priority of our roadtrip. Whether you’re coming from the north or the south, the only way to get to Tomales Bay is along California’s iconic coastal drive – curvy Highway 1. It’s easy to work up an appetite while navigating the white-knuckle, hairpin turns and taking in the ocean vistas, lush meadows, pungent eucalyptus groves, and awe-inspiring redwood forests. GREG
I received compensation in order to bring information to this blog about visiting the California coast. All opinions are my own.