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Oysters, especially in California's Tomales Bay, can be pure heaven

Oysters, especially in California's Tomales Bay, can be pure heaven
The main ways to get good fresh oysters are to find the right restaurant, order them at a seafood market or online, or go to a place like Tomales Bay in Marin County. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

I am not a complicated guy, and it doesn't take much to make me happy. Oysters are always a good start. Recently I spent several days at one of the happiest places I've ever been — on Tomales Bay, in west Marin County, just north of San Francisco.

How happy was I? There are more oyster bars on Tomales Bay than there are gas stations. I ate oysters four out of the five days of our visit. The only one I missed was because we arrived too late and every place had closed down (that happens early there).

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Generally, when it comes to oysters, I'm a purist. I like them raw and I like them pristine. As far as I'm concerned, the wedges of lemon and little bowl of mignonette that come on the plate are decorations, not intended to be consumed.

My belief is that if the good Lord had wanted us to eat oysters with sauce, he would have provided it. In fact, he did: There is no better accompaniment to a raw oyster than the final slurp of juice in the bottom of the shell.

But because I'm also broad-minded, on my trip I ate some oysters that had been cooked. Barbecued, actually. I had an epiphany about them several years ago, on my first visit to the area, at a little place called Marshall Store. There they grill the oysters over a live fire just until the shells pop. Then they brush them with garlic butter and add a shot of a chipotle-flavored tomato sauce.

A lifetime of oyster Puritanism met its match the first time I tasted them. And, of course, I had to check in again this trip to make sure they were up to snuff. They were. Both times.

Did I mention Marshall Store also stocks Kermit Lynch wines and Cowgirl Creamery cheeses? Oysters with Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre? A little Red Hawk for dessert? Is this heaven? If it's not, is it better stocked?

Southern California isn't quite as oyster crazy as Tomales, but it's getting a lot better. Even just three or four years ago, our raw bar choices were fairly limited. Now we've got Connie and Ted's in West Hollywood, Water Grill downtown, Fishing With Dynamite in Manhattan Beach, L&E Oyster Bar in Silver Lake, Blue Plate Oysterette in Santa Monica, the Hungry Cat in Hollywood, Bouchon in Beverly Hills. These days we're never far from a good oyster when we really need one.

But why wait for someone else to serve you? There are few things more pleasurable than shucking a couple of dozen oysters for friends before dinner. You can get them at your favorite seafood store or order them online. I particularly like Taylor Shellfish in Washington (www.taylorshellfishfarms.com), especially if you're ordering in quantity, which offsets the shipping costs.

And, really, ordering in quantity is the way to go. Oysters disappear quickly. A half-dozen is just enough to whet your appetite. It doesn't take a lot to make me happy, but more is always welcome.

Tomales Bay: Hog Island Oyster Co., 20215 Shoreline Highway, Marshall, (415) 663 9218, hogislandoysters.com; Marshall Store, 19225 California 1, Marshall, (415) 663-1339, themarshallstore.com.

Southern California: Connie and Ted's, 8171 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-2722, www.connieandteds.com; Water Grill, 544 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 891-0900, www.watergrill.com; Fishing With Dynamite, 1148 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, (310) 893-6299, eatfwd.com; L&E Oyster Bar, 1637 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 660-2255, www.leoysterbar.com; Blue Plate Oysterette, 1355 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 576-3474, blueplatesantamonica.com; the Hungry Cat, 1535 Vine St., Los Angeles, (323) 462-2155, thehungrycat.com; Bouchon, 235 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 271-9910, bouchonbistro.com.

Follow me on Twitter @russ_parsons1

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