- SHUCK, SLURP AND REPEAT Bodega Bay Oyster Co. has been farming Tomales Bay shellfish for nearly 30 years.
Hog Island and Tomales Bay oyster companies are the best-known shuck-your-own-oyster outposts. But if you don't want to make the trip out Highway 1 to West Marin, you've now got a closer option in Sonoma County: Petaluma's Bodega Bay Oyster Company.
Unlike its competitors in West Marin, the two-and-a-half-month-old Bodega Bay Oyster Company doesn't offer picnic space to pop and eat your oysters. This is strictly a takeout operation, but there are plans to open a restaurant and raw bar next year in the adjacent space. For now, make a pit stop for oysters, and go and eat
Oysters are kind of like sushi, in that most people eat them in restaurants rather than at home. Maybe it's because of the perceived difficulty of opening an oyster or trepidation over freshness, but the common practice is to go out for oysters. The impeccable freshness of Bodega Bay's oysters, however, mean they are highly portable.
I suggest grabbing a dozen or two and continuing to head west on Valley Ford Road, and take them right to the beach. Pack a shucking knife, a towel to hold the oysters while your pry open the shells, a bottle of Cholula picante sauce, and you're all set. Cold beer is also highly recommended. The folks at the market will send you off with plenty of ice to keep them cold. Empty shells? Toss them on the sand. I can't think of better ocean-side dining.
Given the store's roadside location on Valley Ford Road a few miles from the ocean, most customers stop on their way to the beach or on their way home to keep the beach-party vibe going, says Lindsey Strain, whose father, Martin Strain, started raising oysters nearly 30 years ago.
The oysters come from the Pt. Reyes Oyster Company's (do you spot a pattern in naming conventions here?), 90 acres of production in and around Tomales Bay. Until now, the bivalves were only available wholesale or at restaurants like Nick's Cove.
The shop sells three kinds of oysters: Miyagi, Kumamoto and Virginica. The Miyagis and Kumamtos are available in a variety of sizes. I like the smaller ones best. The Kumamotos pack an intense, briny flavor that's softened by the sweetness of the meat. My favorites, though, are the Virginica, or Atlantic, oysters, tiny little orbs of meat with a racy, clean, buttery flavor.
In addition to oysters, the market sells Manila clams, raised in the Walker Creek Estero, and so-called Bodega gallo mussels, a species grown in Tomales Bay that's different from the California sea mussels typically seen growing on coastal rocks and piers.
But it's the oysters that are real attraction. If you're like me, you'll want to grab some more to take back home after your trip to beach.
Bodega Bay Oyster Company, 12830 Valley Ford Road, Petaluma. 707.876.3010. Open Thursday–Sunday, 10am–5:30pm.