Hog Island Oyster Co........and yes, we actually got oysters
Usually I try to avoid tourist hotspots in SF because, well, tourists. They can be overly crowded with mind numbing waits and in the end, do I really need to go somewhere everyone and their aunt are going when they come to town. Sometimes though, things happen and you end up at one of these spots by happenstance. The SO's parents came to town and we found ourselves down at the Ferry Building, which, in actuality, is kind of fun to visit, on an off day when there aren't so many people that seem to be trying to win a contest of who can walk the slowest through it. Saturdays are obviously the worst as the farmer's market there adds another layer of locals to the tourists already wandering aimlessly.
The 'rents enjoy going and getting their Blue Bottle fix while checking out the stalls and thus there we were relatively early (at least for us normally) on a Saturday morning, dodging pets and strollers. One thing about getting their earlier is some of the restaurants in the building aren't open quite yet and after some discussion is kind of how we ended up at Hog Island Oyster Co. The place doesn't take reservations, you just line up and get seated, first come, first served style. Somehow we just happened to be there as they were setting up to open and we are like, sure, why not, since the line was super short and in less than 10 minutes we got seated. So there is your tip, try to go when they open and you will get a table quickly.
The place is popular and has been around awhile and actually gets good reviews from people. Even with all that, I'd never really had too much desire to go due to having to wait for a table and not being a fan of oysters in anyway. I mean, why go if you aren't eating their signature offering? Since I was with others this time who might actually eat an oyster, things seem to have worked out in my favor to at least say, "yeah, I've been there."
Why not kick it all off with their oysters then! There are always a selection available which come in from their farm up Tomales Bay way. In order to get a full tasting, getting the mixed plate seemed like the way to go, if you are into them. Point of note, I did not eat a single one of these, I left them all to the SO and parents, thus this is a third party review of them. They ate all of them and seemed pleased with the offerings. Some slightly sweet, a little salty, a little briny and fresh off the boat tasting. Works for me! I guess if you are going to eat oysters in SF, why not have them at a place with oyster in their name right? And hey, why not follow it up with something else I don't eat like.....
yellowtail crudo with a kind of sabayon sauce and fried potato strings. Yeah, raw fish, I just can't get behind the texture. But the SO loves it and was all in on this appetizer. While the fish tasted fresh, the sabayon sauce was a little odd with it as were the fried potato slivers. Not sure what they were trying to create here as the individual pieces were good by themselves, but not together. Just a strange dish.
Now here was something right up my alley, deep fried fish, or more specifically, anchovies served with a side of tartar sauce. Anchovies are supposed to be good for you, though I think you are supposed to have them sautéed or steamed or something instead of fried, but if I'm gonna eat something head to tail, I gotta have it deep fried. Slathering it in tartar sauce helps too, just not in the healthy department. These were lightly battered and flash fried and the best way to eat them is just dip in sauce, pop in mouth and not think too hard about the fact you are eating head, bones, scales and fins. The frying just makes it all crunchy and there is enough fish flesh to know that is what you are eating.
The anchovies are larger than your average one you get in a can and you get about eight, so eating them all yourself could be a challenge. These are definitely made for sharing though you may need more tartar sauce than you get initially. I liked the deep fried version of anchovies, but I still won't get them on a pizza in the can version, just too slimy and oily that way.
Of course we got a side of french fries seasoned with Old Bay in order to create some semblance of a fish and chips dish with anchovies. Thin and crispy and covered in copious amounts of Old Bay, they are the side dish you would expect at a seafood restaurant. As a side sharing with four people they seemed to go quickly and seemed better built for two, but I don't really need the extra carbs.
Especially since I also got the beer battered ling cod sliders. Chunks of battered and deep fried cod on toasted Acme buns with tartar sauce and a slaw made of lettuce, cabbage and purple onion. As if the anchovies weren't enough fried fish, I doubled down and got these which I did enjoy. For fried fish sandwiches it is pretty standard, but the crust was crunchy, the fish was flaky and fresh tasting and there was more than enough tartar sauce to keep the bread from being too dry. Each was about two and half bites at most and altogether they would be enough as a main dish if you were looking for a fish sandwich.
Not sure why we got this, initially I think we thought everything else would be smallish bites and we needed something to round out the meal for four people. Plus, a grilled cheese at a fish place seemed an off the wall choice of why not. It's Cowgirl Creamery's fromage blanc, Vella mezzo secco and cave-aged Gruyere on toasted buttered bread with a selection of pickled vegetables. If you like your cheese strong and gooey, then this sandwich is for you. The Gruyere stands out the most, but it is definitely for the cheese lover in you. The pickled veggies are a nice tangy contrast to the richness of the cheese, but be forewarned, they are super sour tangy and will pucker you right up. You kind of need to take a bite of sandwich then veggie to get the full combo of flavor without killing your taste buds. Of course, you don't really need to get this at Hog Island as Cowgirl Creamery is just around the corner in the Ferry Building and I would recommend saving it for another visit and get there.
All in all, the food was decent if a bit on the tourist priced side of things. If you are into oysters they are definitely worth checking out for their daily changing selection and freshness. For the other food, while good enough, you can find better versions of the same stuff elsewhere in town. My suggestion, should you really want to go, is just concentrate on the oysters and a glass of wine and enjoy what they are mostly known for. And remember, unless you have a thing for people watching, tourists and waiting in lines, then go closer to when they first open to ensure you get seated quickly. Then you can sip, slurp and watch the ferries arrive to your hearts content.