Bay Views Restaurant Fare
With so many years having passed since my last trip to the Bay, I decided to check out areas less traveled from my earlier years in the city. In my teens, my city routine consisted of heading to Union Square via the Powell BART station to shop in stores like Urban Outfitters, Tower Records, and reminisce in FAO Shwartz before catching the trolley to Fisherman’s Wharf. From there I would wander along the outdoor market and Piers before boarding one of the Blue & Gold Fleet at Pier 41 to gallery stroll in Sausalito. In my early years travel meant visiting shops I did not have access to back home coupled with revisiting my favorite areas in the Bay. In my adult years my travel routine has become heavily dictated by my quest for good food.
Pursuing delicious Bay offerings, on my first day back in the city had my childhood friend and I heading for the Ferry Building located in the Embarcadero district. Starting in 1998 (post my teen-age city ventures), the Ferry Building underwent a massive renovation to become a historic landmark and marketplace showcasing the best of the Bay’s dining and artisan food community – including Hog Island Oyster Co. restaurant, my lunch dining destination, which expanded and reopened in May 2014.
Beginning with a set of Hog Island Sweetwater oysters, my taste buds were elated. Almost 3 years had passed since tasting oysters this fresh during my travels in New Orleans, and while the NOLA oysters were slightly more voluptuous, the Hog Island Sweetwater oyster had better flavor. Fresh like the ocean, they tasted as though they had been plucked and shucked minutes before sitting atop a plate just for me, and paired perfectly with a spritz of lemon and mignonette (vinegar based side sauce) consisting of green pepper, onion, and delectably unexpected cooling cilantro.
For my main, I went with the fried oyster po’boy. The oysters perfectly fried, crispy outside, soft inside in a light well-seasoned cornmeal, and the bread was sturdy but not teeth-breaking baguette hard. The po’boy dressing resembled the modern refined version of a proper remoulade with cabbage slaw vs. shredded lettuce, tomato, and mayo found on more traditional versions. Which at the risk of sounding like a food snob is my preference.
In addition to the food, the inside and (especially outside) offer delightful views of the Bay Bridge, though to be honest, being so focused on my food I barely looked up to take it all in. With that, there is a reason people stand in line for a taste of the goods at Hog Island Oyster Co. and as someone who has tasted their offerings, I can attest the wait is worth every second.
Inside the Market Fare
If simplistic fare is more your bag, the Ferry Building offers several other simple dining choices. Boccalone, boasting Toasty Salted Pig Parts, offers simply decadent sandwiches at a steal for $8-10. I can personally vouch for the prosciutto cotto with provolone and whole grain mustard, prepared on a hard shell baguette, with simple balsamic dressed greens. It came wrapped, European style in a brown bag, perfect for unwrapping a bit at a time to snack while checking out the other shops within the Ferry Building or wandering outside for the Bay views.
When your sandwich is gone, you can meander into The Book Passage to pick up a souvenir or find a rare read. Done wondering and want to rest your feet? Relax at the Wine Merchant’s wine bar offering: tasting, glass, quartino, and bottle options of wine. Well staffed with wine experts there to aid you in selecting the perfect people-watching beverage. I went with the Mas de Daumas Gassac Rosé Frizant (or sparkling rose), though I was suppose to taste hints of candied red fruit balanced with herbal earth tones, my amateur wine connoisseur palate is only trained for a description of slight citric flavors with smooth finish. If you prefer to people-watch while sipping on coffee or tea, the marketplace offers multiple cafes, as well.
While Union Square was once my starting point, these days Union Square no longer offers anything you cannot obtain somewhere else (or online). Now overrun with the same retail stores that exist in every mall across America, the only real difference between Union Square and your local mall is at your local mall you can shop minus the smell of piss and garbage littering the sidewalks. Thus, if your time in the city is limited, bypass Union Square and hit up the Ferry Building in the Embarcadero, your senses will thank you.