Here's a delicious field trip that combines all the elements of an ideal Southern California picnic. Fresh-from-the sea proteins ready-to-eat. Bring-your-own wine and beer. And dogs are welcome. The Jolly Oyster is a fresh oyster and clam shackette just an hour north of L.A. on the 101.
Inspired by Hog Island Oyster Company's Tomales Bay picnic site and located in a permanently parked food truck at San Buenaventura State Beach, The Jolly Oyster sells Baja aqua-farmed Kumamoto and Pacific oysters and Manila clams. Buy the shellfish to take home or use one of the ten picnic tables with room to shuck-your-own. There are also grills to cook them up right at the beach.
Co-owner Mark Reynolds spent 15 years developing a shellfish farm approximately four hours south on the Baja peninsula. He formerly sold only to restaurants; now he's direct-to-bivalve-lovers, so pricing is $12 per dozen oysters (there's a $40 special for four dozen oysters). The catch is the DIY element: The oysters need to be shucked. But not to worry -- it's as easy as a twist of the wrist.
Clams and oysters journey quickly from The Jolly Oyster's seabed to table. Farmed in San Quintin Bay in Baja, Mexico, an oyster takes two years to mature. As Reynolds explains, there are five species of oysters (Pacific, Kumamoto, Eastern, European and Olympia). What gives oysters their differing flavors is the salinity of the bays in which they grow. Local algae affects the taste as well; for oysters, it's the water that imparts terroir. Pacific oysters are often named for their origination point: Think the ever-popular Fanny Bay.
The Jolly Oyster's kumamotos are briny, as expected. When opened, look for the water covering the meat: As a filter feeder, the retained water is keeping the oyster alive. The larger Pacific oysters are ideal for barbecuing. While the Jolly Oyster vends some items -- like flat oyster knives, limes and even briquettes -- consider bringing along picnic and cooking supplies. (The website has a suggested list.) A little mignonette (minced shallots, pepper and vinegar), horseradish, hot sauce and lemons make for an instant rustic raw bar. Bring along a cake pan or Dutch oven to steam the vibrant Manila clams. One suggestion for broth? Butter, onions or shallots, white wine, parsley and lime juice.
Both the oysters and clams are available to-go, so remember to bring a cooler and ice for the ride home.
To shuck an oyster, hold the oyster firmly (use a towel, as the shells are sharp), wriggle the flat knife into the corner hinge between the shells, glide the knife forward and twist until the shells to pop apart.
Reynolds conceived the beachy picnic spot as a place to connect with nature while eating sustainably raised seafood. Large placards at the picnic area describe the aquaculture process, the Baja aquafarm and the health benefits of crustaceans (rich in Omega-3s and B-12 and low in cholesterol). Pair with a Central Coast Sauvignon Blanc, a Junmai sake or an ice cold craft beer. A day at the beach never tasted so good.
The Jolly Oyster is open seven days a week, rain or shine, from 11 a.m. to dusk at San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura. Follow the sign at the state park entrance around the grassy area to the parking lot. Look for the blue trailer, picnic tables and several large wooden signs.
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