Swan Oyster Depot - San Francisco, CA
- Swan Oyster Depot
- 1517 Polk St, San Francisco, CA
- 5 January, 2019
Ah, San Francisco, my birthplace (well, almost), and a city that has changed so dramatically in recent years. I remember my first trip back to SF since my infancy, when my high school debate team traveled to the Bay for a tournament. That was almost fifteen years ago, when the city still overflowed with its own wonderful, quirky character. I have visited nearly every year since, and have consequently witnessed the city’s evolution (or for many, devolvement) as it became overwhelmed by the flood of simoleons from the tech boom and the corresponding influx of tech “bros;” however, the rich and unique character of the city can still be found by those who seek it, and it's still a city that I love to visit.
There are some places that are absolute institutions that (we pray) will only be destroyed when the asteroid hits. Family-owned Swan Oyster Depot is one of the places that captures the essence of old school San Francisco, and I’d never had the chance to visit because I’d rarely had enough time to kill to allow for the wait. This time, however, on a leisurely, blustery, and rainy Saturday, I found myself taking a stroll to this veritable temple of fresh seafood and lining up to sample their stunning offerings. This place has been around since 1912, and for 107 years has peddled the freshest, most beautiful seafood that the United States has to offer.
The catch (lol) is that, well, it is tiny––just 18 seats! Ever since Anthony Bourdain (RIP) brought it to the widespread attention of the world, much to the chagrin of locals, there is a nearly constant hours-long line out the door and down the street to take a seat on one of Swan's barstools. I was initially disappointed to see that the rain hadn't deterred the Saturday lunch crowd, but hell, I plan my vacations around food, and had nothing but time for lunch!
I found my spot in line around 12:15 PM after a nice walk from SoMa and swiftly made friends with the Alabama fans behind me. Several of us in the group of what became about ten new friends traded beer runs across the street, and we toasted to a couple of choruses of "Roll Tide" (gotta support the conference, ya know?) and exchanged stories, beer, and laughter for a good 180 minutes before we finally got in the door. After leaving my barstool around 3:30, there was no question that the wait was worth EVERY MINUTE.
Clusters of memorabilia line the walls, and the members of the family shuck oysters and slice fresh fish behind the bar. After exploring how the menu would work for one person to enjoy the best they had to offer, I placed my order and was swiftly brought some San Francisco sourdough and a pint of Anchor Steam. First thing to come out was the crab back, essentially what's left in the shell of a Dungeness crab after the meat and viscera are removed, which consists of a pool of glistening, magnificent crab fat. Crab. Fat. Y'all. Dipped in the sourdough, it was the most luxurious thing; a new dish for me.
Oysters followed, with a pair of fresh Blue Points from the east coast (top right), local Tomales Bay Miyagis (top left), and Kumamoto oysters from Humboldt Bay (bottom center), just up the coast. Blue Points are always a favorite of mine when it comes to oysters from the east coast, since they are smaller and tend to have less of that east coast "funk" that can come in the bigger Atlantic oysters. Of course, the Kumamotos, my absolute favorite oyster, were petite, round, and deep, with a lasting full sweetness and just a hint of brine. Add that stellar mignonette and... drooooool. I could eat three dozen.
The crab cocktail followed, which was simply a little elevated cup filled with heaps of fresh cracked San Francisco Bay Dungeness crab meat served with cocktail sauce. This crab was to die for––probably the freshest you can get in the US, and while I'm not really a fan of cocktail sauce in general, a couple of alternating dashes of the house hot sauce and mignonette brought nice counterpoints the the fresh, rich crab meat.
The star of the show was definitely the uni (sea urchin). They source this urchin from Half Moon Bay, just about an hour southwest of the city, and crack it fresh for you and serve the uni in the shell of the urchin it came from. Uni is probably my favorite thing in the world, and is one of only things that can provide little atheist Steven with what one might call a "religious" experience, and this uni was no exception––subtle, creamy, and luscious, with just a little brine, which just a dash of soy sauce and wasabi made into a feast.
Last, I had a plate of what they call "Sicilian sashimi," an off-menu ode to the Italian family that runs the place. Sardine, yellowtail, tuna, scallop, and salmon were brushed with olive oil and topped with red onion, capers, and a hint of salt and pepper. All of the pieces were excellent, but the scallop and salmon were absolutely sublime.
What an experience! A worthy 2.5 hour wait resulted in about a dozen new friends and one of the best seafood lunches money can buy. Old San Francisco is alive and well, you just have to know where to look to find it!
Super excited to try Moroccan-Californian fusion tonight at Mourad! Stay tuned for my full report tomorrow. A big shout out to my new friends from the Swan line, especially those who are now followers; y'all were a blast!