Hog & Rocks, San Francisco CA
August 5 this year is National Oyster Day, so we ditched our original dinner plans and went out to San Francisco for Hog & Rocks, a poppin’ joint with a broad variety of oysters and pork dishes. Instead of picking a few entrees, we decided to try multiple appetizer-like plates, so that we could sample as many hogs, rocks, and other treats as possible. Considering it was National Oyster Day today, we were surprised when we arrived around 6 pm, still within Happy Hour, and few tables were taken. By the time we left, though, the place was packed and bustling.
Nearly half of the menu covers beverages, so we had to try at least one specialty cocktail. Zach enjoyed sipping a glass of prosecco, while August was immediately drawn to the “Smoker’s Delight,” a delicious take on an Old Fashioned. Laphroaig single malt scotch, aged ten years, plus Tempus Fugit creme de cacao and bitters, equaled liquid warmth.
Ah, the reason we came. The Happy Hour oysters are only $1 each; at that price it was hard to pass up a dozen. There were six other oysters available, so we got one of each including Black Point, Beausoleil, and Kusshi, among others. Savor the variety and try them with a squirt of lemon, a spoon of of mignonette, or two drops of the chef and his brother’s Youks hot sauce.
Ordering the BBQ oysters will get you a plate of three large, succulent, warm oysters with a dash of mild cocktail sauce. The verdant sauce was an herb butter, which added creaminess and an earthy taste to an otherwise maritime bite. August’s eyes lit up for an “OMG” moment when she had her first one, declaring that it may be her new favorite oyster style.
Also in a trio came decadent deviled eggs. What set these apart from the standard potluck deviled eggs were the hunks of smoky, salty country ham and fried oysters. The filling was supremely rich and creamy with a very gentle spiciness – the spice was more flavor than heat. Bridging together the two ingredients of the restaurant’s name, the oyster/ham juxtaposition nestled on each egg worked well, both in texture and flavor. The crisp and crunchy oyster had a cornmeal crust, offsetting the smooth egg. In Zach’s words, these deviled eggs were “the best hands down ever.”
Not many people realize that “pickle” refers to a process, not a particular food. We’ve become accustomed in American English to referring to pickled cucumbers as pickles themselves, but we forget that any vegetable can be pickled. Here we had an assortment with fresh garlic, beet, fennel, carrot, Romano bean, chard, and classic bread and butter pickle. Zach has never been a fan of bread and butter pickles, but he really enjoyed these – they were sweet but not grotesquely so, as he often finds them to be.
Hardcore ham hounds cannot pass up this spread. A sampling of three fine hams from across the globe were each paired with their own special garnish. Suryanno ham from Virginia (top right) came with thin slices of juicy melon; salty and sweet can’t get much better than ham and melon, especially if the ham is lightly smoky and melts in your mouth. Spanish jamón serrano (bottom right) got a sprinkling of candied almonds, inedible for Zach but a delight for August. It had a similar mouthfeel as the Suryanno but was not as smoky. Prosciutto from Italy was topped with house-made ricotta cheese, and like truly artisan ricotta, the cheese was flavorless. All that ricotta should do is provide a creamy cloud-like texture, and this one did its job just right, highlighting the least smoky and most tender of these three little pigs.
It’s not easy to bring a vegetarian here, we imagine. Even the fries come either spiced or with an egg yolk glaze. We went for the glaze, which evenly coated the hand-cut fries. Crispy, fresh, and steamy, a dip of ketchup was all that was needed to make these pretty tempting.
Hog & Rocks prides itself on sourcing locally and supporting neighbors whenever possible, so Firebrand of Oakland provides the delicious pretzels for this appetizer. It was very soft and chewy, but substantial enough to support gobs of rich pimento cheese. Its flavor was that of a basic mild cheddar, but with a sweet pimento pepper essence. The cheese was smooth, creamy, and plentiful – there was more cheese than we could smear on the pretzel, so we tried it on the fries, as well (and it’s not bad).
A beef bone was split and prepared with pickled blackberry, pearl onion, and fresh dill. Buttery toast points were hard enough for us to spread the marrow like it itself was butter. The tangy pickled blackberries and pearl onions contributed a layer of flavor that made the marrow more sumptuous that it already is by nature. After eating this, there’s no need for lip balm for a week.
The plate that we agreed was the most impressive was the Trotter Tots. Their texture and flavor were identical to tater tots and pork cracklins, as if they were engineered by Jeff Goldblum. Shredded pork, smoky and salty, was mixed with tender, fluffy potatoes, then formed into balls to be fried and served on a juniper-pine aioli. We have some inspiration now for something to do for a future football party, like the Big Game (coincidentally August and Zach’s anniversary) or next year’s Superbowl. These hogtied potato bites are sure to disappear fast at an event like that.
A full bar and a few TVs mean this is a good place to catch a sports match, but it is equally ideal for a nice date night; we saw many people here tonight for both reasons. Even with all that we sampled, there was so much more on the menu that we’d like to give a chance to. You can bet that we will be back, for dinner again or maybe for a weekend brunch. We’re curious to see what a Hog & Rocks morning meal would be like.