Those famous barbecue oysters. (Remy Hale/Hog Island Oyster Co.)

First Taste: Beloved Tony's Seafood resurfaces to serve new-school pescatarians in Marshall

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They were out of the burger when I visited the newly renovated Tony's Seafood in Marshall, but that didn't really matter since I was there to sample the marine fare billed in the name of the restaurant.

Regardless, it was nice to know that if I wanted a gourmet burger at a joint that I'm sure die-hard pescatarians would love to lay claim upon, I could have a version worthy of any farm-to-tavern eatery in the city. But I digress. As I said, I'm here to talk about the seafood at Tony's Seafood.


A fresh new look for a new era.(Remy Hale/Hog Island Oyster Co.)

First, some background, because a little history tends to have an umami effect on food, giving it depth beyond the apparent flavor.

Tony's goes back 70 years, when that stretch of Tomales Bay was like Little Croatia. A Croatian fisherman started the seafood shack in 1948, and it remained family-run for all the those years, making a name for itself with barbecue oysters and local crabs steamed right in that ancient cooker out front. It's still there, by the way, and ready to be re-commissioned for this new era under Hog Island Oyster Co., which operates the famous oyster farm and U-shuck picnickery about a mile-and-a-half up the road.

Though the weathered shack has been lovingly restored—think refinished wood paneling, new salvage floors, tabletops made from local cypress, a shiny chef's kitchen, and, lucky you, new pilings to keep the overwater restaurant steady on its feet—vintage photos of the original owners have been framed and hung in the dining room. In fact, the Croatian fisherman's sons still live in separate houses on either side of the restaurant.

McFarland Springs trout with pinot noir-braised chicories and maitake mushrooms.(Remy Hale/Hog Island Oyster Co.)

The new chef, Matt Shapiro, a veteran toque at Hog Island Oyster Co., is cooking seafood in a way that honors its mostly delicate flavors: The dishes are straightforward, nourishing, and most of all delicious—on our visit, this approach was most evident in the salade Niçoise, a jumble of romaine leaves, avocado, green beans and carrot lightly drizzled with garlic-Champagne vinaigrette—"lightly" being the operative word, so as not to interfere with the flaky albacore tuna that is delicately poached in olive oil to order.

On the specials menu, the crispy-skinned pan-fried McFarland Springs trout, its deep salmon-colored flesh confounding many diners who don't realize that these farm-raised fish get this special hue from a nutritious diet of totally natural red algae, is a must-eat not just for the simple and flavorful preparation of the fish, but also for its pinot noir-braised chicories and maitake mushrooms.

Fried oysters are a great addition to the fish-and-chips basket.(Remy Hale/Hog Island Oyster Co.)

The barbecue oysters are practically a prerequisite for all who stop in; the renovation did away with the old fire-hazard of a grill room and now things are done less dangerously, but without sacrificing the soul of this signature dish. Another indication of a good seafood restaurant is the fish and chips, and the Tony's version is solid, with tender cod masterfully enrobed within a golden-fried batter. To make things more interesting, we added fried oysters to the basket.

While we didn't have room for the chowder, the folks at the next table let us ogle their bowl, piled so high with clams that we didn't think it was possible to dig in without first removing some of the shells to another plate. We would have liked to try the Straus soft serve for dessert, but the machine was on the fritz, otherwise we would have eschewed the ubiquitous EVOO-and-Maldon topping for the more unusual sesame-seaweed brittle. I wholly appreciated the intention behind such a simple finishing touch, harking back, as it does, to a classic seaside-boardwalk experience, enjoying a summer's day with a cone in hand.

// Tony's Seafood, 18863 Shoreline Hwy (Marshall), tonysseafoodrestaurant.com

While you're in Marshall...

Have a nightcap and rest your head at Nick's Cove, the waterfront stay with 12 private, rustic-luxe cottages with elegant amenities and a popular oyster bar. Located a half-hour west of Petaluma and 50 miles north of San Francisco in Marshall, Nick's Cove overlooks the waters and beaches of Tomales Bay, abundant with wildlife and surrounded by rolling hills. To learn more about Nick's Cove, Point Reyes, and other Marin County attractions, go to visitmarin.org.

*Thank you to our partners at Marin Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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