Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Oysters and the Rogue Mexican Island

I'm not sure what this pose is. Perhaps I was trying to pantomime how staggering good the oysters we just ate were? Or maybe I was just retarded.

Thanksgiving was good. We visited my parents in Cupertino and enjoyed our traditional dinner. Then we visited Tania’s brother’s bar, The Duke of Edinburgh, “for one drink.” We finished our “one drink” at about 3:30 in the morning. It was a good night.

Tania's family at the bar (l to r) Craig, Cary, and mom. Way past Beckett's bed time.

The morning after Thanksgiving, however, was a little weird. My parents sat me and Tania down to tell us some news. We were hungover. On top of that I was being made to feel like I was 12-years-old again and in trouble for something, or I was going to get the sex talk, or something. It turned out to be a rather intimate family issue which I'm not exactly at liberty to blab about in public. Let's just say it's weird, but not that big of a deal.

At the time, however, upon hearing the news, Tania and I immediately packed up our stuff and went to the bar. I ordered a Jim Beam on the rocks. I didn’t really want a Jim Beam on the rocks—I didn’t even really want to be at the bar, it was only 11am, but it seemed like the appropriate thing to do at the time. The Jim Beam tasted like Jim Beam, but it didn’t make me any less confused. I think I was most confused by my lack of confusion. I didn’t really care about the news. There’s nothing really good about it, but it's not really bad either.

We finished our drinks and decided the best course of action was to continue with our holiday plans and visit our friends Tom and Denise in Petaluma, just north of San Francisco. Gary’s birthplace (Tom and Denise are the owners of Queenie, who is Gary’s mom.)

Volpi's is an old speakeasy in Petaluma that operated during prohibition behind a hidden door with a secret code. I think the code was "cocksucker" or something? Now it's an Italian restaurant and bar. Good clams. Even better accordions. That place is awesome.

This was the correct decision because we went up there and had a great time. We drank more, we ate more (I got to eat at my favorite Petaluma speakeasy, Volpi’s), and I dropped their baby Jack on his head. Oops. I’m not sure what I was doing with a baby in my arms, or who even allowed me to have a baby in my arms, but the baby wasn’t in my arms for very long before it ended up on the floor. There’s been some debate about whether or not I “dropped” Jack, or if li’l Jack “jumped.” Even if it was the latter, I was told it was still my fault because a tiny little baby shouldn’t be able to overpower me and leap to his death on a hardwood floor. I thought that everyone knew that swan diving onto hard surfaces could result in death, but apparently babies haven’t learned this important bit of information? Fuckin’ babies. So, anyway, we both learned something and I’m not allowed to hold babies anymore.

I'm not even allowed to take photos of Jack unless he's wearing protective head gear.

On Sunday, rather than drive home, Denise suggested we drive out to Hog Island Oyster Company and eat oysters and drink champagne. I also think they weren’t satisfied about my level of guilt and wanted to yell at me about dropping their baby on his head some more. Because that’s all I heard on the drive out there. Fortunately the Irish highways of Petaluma make for one of the most beautiful drives on the planet, so it wasn’t hard to tune them out.

The Hog Island Oyster Co. is directly west of Petaluma on the eastern shore of Tomales Bay. The night before, Tom showed me the bay on a map and fed me this long tale about how the peninsula that creates Tomales Bay is actually a rogue island from Mexico (it’s original Mexican name was Tamale, but the English Pilgrims of California couldn’t wrap their white tongues around the Spanish word). Tom said the island is slowly making its way up the coast, presumably to devour Alaska and then attack Canada. He says it swims about two feet north per year. At the time, I totally believed him because I was drunk, but I’m now beginning to wonder if it wasn’t all a bunch of hogwash. Still, if it’s true, I’m rooting for the Tamale Island which is currently disguised as a peninsula. At the very least, we need to keep an eye on that thing. One thing that is certain about Tamale island, however, is that it has created a body of water perfect for great white sharks, flying great white sharks, orcas (which can be seen snatching small sea lions from the shore and playing volleyball with them at sea), giant otters, excellent hiding places for submarines, alligators, sea horses, off-shore abortion clinics, wake boarding (the new rollerblading!), tuna, jellyfish, octopus, sperm whales, grey whales, narwhales, and, best of all, oysters.

“If you enjoy a food that tastes like snot, after it has been rubbed on rocks and old silverware, then you may enjoy oysters. But do not listen to the killjoys who tell you never to eat oysters in the months that do not contain the letter R: May, June, July, August, Octobah. You know. They say that you should not eat oysters during those months because they are the warm months, they are the traditional spawning season of the oyster, and that, of course, is when the oyster tends to beg for its life while you're eating it, which some people find distracting, or embarrassing for the oyster. But I'd say if you're going to eat a creature alive, you're going to have to expect some screaming. That is the carnivore's burden.” —John Hodgman on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me

We actually didn’t intend on going to the Hog Island Oyster Co., Denise had somewhere else in mind. But after driving past a half dozen places and not finding the one she was looking for, we just kind of settled on Hog Island. We had a great time and enjoyed some great oysters, but there’s something annoyingly touristy about the place. I gathered this immediately from the weary looks of the dreadlocked employees, and the menu which looked eerily similar to the bait shacks at the end of the pier that sell you fish to throw at the seals: the place was set up to be idiot proof, but the hippies’ eyes said “too many idiots.” Still, there was hardly anyone there and, even if there were, I don’t know how they could have disturbed such a beautiful day.

Denise, Jack, Tom, and Simone.

I’ve always loved oysters, but it wasn’t ‘til recently that I actually committed some names to memory, and so now Tania and I’s favorite is the Kumamoto. I think it is named such because it is Japanese in origin and it has a hunched back. I have read that if you hold the Kumamoto’s shell to your ear and listen closely, you can hear church bells softly ringing beneath the roar of the ocean. I have yet to confirm this claim. The Kumamoto’s flavor and texture, however, I have determined to be the best. I don’t shy away from large, loogie-like oysters, but, like a slice of pizza, I prefer a smaller, more manageable package. (If you’re not thinking the joke that Nieratko is thinking right now, perhaps the next sentence will help you out?) Plus the flavor of the Kumamoto is a tad sweeter, and I would describe the texture as milkier. Mmm, small, milky package.

Have you ever heard the expression, "Never turn your back on a tamale"? Neither have Tania and Simone.

The young, dreary employees wore hoodies and orange waders with suspenders over them. You go to the window and you ask them for some oysters. They take your money, then you walk over to a table where they give you a small plastic tray and they huck your oysters and some ice onto it. I said “huck,” not shuck. You have to do that yourself with the oyster mothershucker that comes chained to the tray.

“Are you left or right handed?” the dirty hippie girl droned. I’m right handed, so she threw a filthy, blue, plastic, left-handed glove on top of the oysters. We grabbed our tray and made our way over to the picnic table we had picked out. There weren’t many picnic tables, and most of them were either occupied or had “reserved” signs on them (something you might want to do if visiting during peak hours). There just so happened to be a table right next to the fence, closest to the water. It was a perfect spot to catch a glimpse of an orca snatching a pup, or a great white catching air. I took solace in the fact that we were behind a fence.

I've done my share of fuckin' shuckin' so I volunteered to be the master motherfucker shucker.

“Hey the coals are still hot,” Tom said. There were dirty little campsite grills around the picnic tables. I’ve never cooked oysters. I like them raw with very little on them. Maybe a little lemon and/or a mignonette. But in this case it worked out great because, besides the Kumamotos, we got one of their other species, and they were big. So I shucked the big mothershuckers and threw them on the grill with a dash of hot sauce and lemon. I have to say, that shit was good. The larger ones were better cooked on the grill than raw. But the Kumamotos still reigned supreme. Still can’t hear the church bells in the shells.

Speaking of churches, this church is right up the road from Hog Island. We've decided we're going to have Black Metal Thanksgiving there next year. Behind me is the inappropriately named "Peace Bell." Simone rang it and it is anything but peaceful.

Overall it was a wonderful afternoon and a welcome distraction before returning to reality. An afternoon spent drinking champagne with friends beside the sea in the sun, cavorting with oysters, does wonders for one's disposition.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings."
—Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter

A view of Tomales Bay. There's a reason why that dingy is on land: SHARKS!


RyGar said...

Glad to see you are back. Oh, my, though - if there is one food that grosses my wimpy, vegetarian self out, it is Oysters! Fuck. I'd actually rather swallow a load than eat an oyster. Unless it was a prairie oyster. Then I'd try to choke myself to death on my own vomit. Or start swinging wildly at whoever the sick bastard was forcing me to make such a horrible decision. Get behind me Satan! Er, I mean, Oyster.

Ptite Claire said...

Oysters are squishy peaces of heaven.

Anonymous said...

before we had babies we rented kayaks and camped on the other side of tomales bay. pretty awesome but that "peninsula" is a semi tourist trap. oysters are rad because they look like vaginas but id rather bury my face in some trim than eat that shit. beautiful country though, west marin or whatever the fuck you call it. cheers.

Anonymous said...

Oysters are damn good... although my girlfriend likes to tease me because I find it to be a bit of an aphrodisiac. She's threatening to make me eat oysters and wear silk boxers simultaneously.

We also did a nice trip to SLO and went to Pete's in Avila Beach. Everything they cooked tasted like seafood and the octopus cocktail was shitty.

I liked Fatcat's. Is there a picture of Gary there? If not, there should be.