So, I'm coming to SF next week and was planning to go to Hog Island at the Ferry building. I went last October by myself and had the most transforming meal of raw oysters (my first ever - a good place to start!) and the grilled cheese sandwich. (Much to my surprise, 6 months later the NYTimes recommended this exact lunch in an article about the Ferry building!)
Anyway, my mom, being the worrysome typical Jewish mother type, has told me I am not to eat any oysters from the West Coast. Is this really true? Have SF oyster bars been affected, and how so? I was really looking forward to my kumamotos!
My understanding is that there have been some problems (and a recall) with some Washington State oysters. In addition, after some warm weather here earlier this summer, it's been quite cool, especially along the coast, so the local oysters should be fine.
Hog Island isn't going to be risking it's reputation by selling you bad oysters, so I wouldn't worry about it. The only thing is, summer oysters -- while safe to eat -- may not be as good quality as those from months with "R" in them, so they may not live up to your October memories.
There was a Vibrio parahemolyticus outbreak in the Pacific Northwest (including some California cases in the last few weeks, I believe) due to the increased temperatures this summer and the FDA put out a warning against eating raw oysters, but I don't know what that means for restaurants.
FDA Increases Warning on Eating Raw Shellfish (Aug. 11, 2006): http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=230...
I just made a trek to try Drake's (formerly Johnson's) Oysters up at Pt. Reyes and checked the same warnings. They are indeed largely directed at the Washington state oysters. I checked with local Sonoma officials and was given the green light. That being said, they were excellent and my friends and I shucked and slurped through eight dozen with nary a bellyache :) Eat up and enjoy the visit!
The warning that was on the news a few weeks ago was specifically about oysters in the Pacific Northwest. Though many people don't eat oysters in the warmer months because the water they grow in is warmer and increases the potential for bacteria growth, they are still harvesting them at Hog Island. I asked about all this when I was up at the farm in Marshall earlier this month. They told me that they keep their oysters in a regulated cold water bath (not sure what temp) for 24 hours to kill any potential bacteria. Plus, it's cooled down quite a bit since that notice went out...
I will say that they were out of med and large oysters at the farm that day and the smalls were flimsy and insipid, frankly. But they will certainly have more variety at the Ferry Bldg. So go for it!
I'd post, but there's at least one overzealous mod on this board who seems to think I'm shilling for the local oyster growers (which I'm not; I have ZERO affiliation and am simply a fan of raw oysters as well as a proponent of supporting the local economy).
That being said, local raw oysters are no more harmful now than in any other month from a food poisoning standpoint (i.e. the risk is there, but minimal to minor). Ask any health official, and they'll tell you that there's never a good time to eat a raw oyster. I say "pshaw" and will continue to chow down on raw oysters whenever the opportunity arises (as long as they're local).
If you do a search of the board archives, there should be a thread where I posted a link to an LA Times article spelling out why oysters taste different in warmer months (due to spawning cycles triggered by increased water temperatures). This has no bearing on any potential hazards of food poisoning, and only provides a change in visual character, texture and possibly taste.
Excuse me while I go back to day dreaming about shucking and slurping......=-D
Thanks, everyone! I look forward to eating my oysters while my boyfriend recoils in disgust. Yummy. :) (Hey, he can have the grilled cheese.)
A word on behalf of Hog Island's clam chowder, too, very different from the usual New England style (which I love, don't get me wrong, especially as served at Swan Oyster Depot)--Hog Island's has a gazillion tiny clams, served in their just-open shells, with milky broth containing bits o' bacon and celery and thyme... remarkable stuff. There's usually a lunch special with oysters or chowder paired with a glass or a whole bottle of good dry white wine.
Thank you all so much for your help. As an FYI, we actually drove right by the actual Hog Island headquarters in Tomales Bay, and ate our oysters there fresh out of the water - amazing. They're not allowed to serve the hogwash, but you didn't even need it. YUM!