What is the best place for oysters in the city? To my tastes, the oyster bar in the Ferry Building run by the Hog Island Oyster Company is it.
I wouldn't call the space beautiful, but since one of the walls is twenty feet high, made out of glass, and looks out on the bay, it certainly is bright and cheery! There is a wrap-around marble bar with about 15 seats, some inside tables seating perhaps 12 more, and a good collection of tables outside which are really nice on a sunny day.
The menu is small, and in addition to the raw oysters, it offers a few cooked oyster and clam dishes as well as a Grilled Cheese Sandwich and some salads. The traditional oyster stew is fresh and rich and great for a rainy day. The clam chowder is a bit nouveau cuisine for some folks being more of an exotic soup (with Manila clams, bacon, cream, aromatic vegetables and thyme) than a true Manhattan or Boston chowder. As for the sandwich, it is billed as a Cowgirl Creamery Grilled Cheese Sandwich - with Fromage Blanc, Mezzo Secco and Cave Aged Gruyere served with pickled vegetables. It comes on delicious and enormous slices of toasted Acme bread and it is the biggest and richest grilled cheese sandwich I can imagine. I tried it once, and was full for a week. If you've ever wanted to O.D. on a grilled cheese sandwich, start here.
The reminder of the menu consists of Oysters with Beurre Blanc, Oysters Rockefeller, Oysters Casino, Manila Clams (with chorizo sausage and white beans), a Mixed Green Salad, and an Arugula salad.
But eating any of these items, delicious though they may be, is like going to Paris to study Italian. The reason one comes to the Hog Island Oyster bar is to eat raw oysters on the half shell. There is no doubt that the oysters are fresh. You can watch the shuckers working, and note that they throw away about one in ten - proving that quality counts. You can order 6, 12, or 24 oysters, either all one species or mixed. The best deal is what they call the RAW DEAL: 1 dozen Sweetwater Oysters with a glass of Muscadet. The oysters are cold and sweet and taste of fresh air at the beach with the ocean spray splashing in your face. Let an oyster slide seductively into your mouth, take a sip of wine, look out at the view and enjoy life.