March 10, 2008

California Soul: Swan Oyster Depot (SF)

by Kayoko

They say the sun comes up every morning
And if you listen oh so carefully
The winds that ride on the high time
Whistle in melody
And so the people started to sing
And thats how the surf gave birth untold
To California soul, California Soul
- Ashford & Simpson

You know what the surf all along the west coast gave birth to? Absolutely the best oysters in the world, hands down. No joke- I’ve had oysters in many towns, in many countries, and I’m confident that this is true. There’s something in that Ocean, we’ll call it Pacific Soul–when it brushes up against Washington, Oregon and down to California, it creates these divinely luscious slurpable gems.

As soon as I got into San Francisco, Vanessa swooped me up and we headed towards California and Polk for the Swan Oyster Depot. Jim told me about this place, and I’d been dying to go. This seafood joint has been around since 1912 (!), and opens at 8am, closes at 5:30pm- I’m guessing the odd hours is to cater to local fishermen for before or after their shift.
We got there around 12:30pm and there was already a long line out the door. It was a mixed bag of tourists and regulars- the regulars got special treatment and got to drink in line. I want to be a regular!

There’s a fan above the doorway- bizarre but great.

All of the day’s selection displayed in the window. Gorgeous! Look at all those colors. All the guys behind the counter would run back and forth when making your food.

The Depot literally is just one counter, seating maybe 20 people. No frills here, just a lot of history. Men old and young work behind the counter. They were all super knowledgeable about their seafood.
We waited maybe 30-40 minutes in line. Here’s our guy- I think his name was Jeff??? Shame on me for not remembering- he was seriously the sweetest. He’s been there for at least 20 years, which is awesome (on their postcard, they have a pic of him when he still had hair. Aw). He also had a huge crush on V, which meant he showered us with attention. We like that.

He put our purses behind the counter. Seems to be a ritual of sorts.
Alright, the meal. Er, feast. God we ordered too much… you may have noticed that I always over-order. People get really annoyed at me for doing this, but V is the perfect eating partner cause she eats as much as I do, and is experimental. Neither of us have any shame. That’s my kinda girl.

“Jeff” really helped us construct our feast- we just gave him an idea of what we wanted, he suggested, we complied. No one should know what you should be eating better than the guy behind the counter (that goes for any place in general).

First up, OYSTERS! We got a dozen assorted (Drake’s Bay, Kumamoto, Olympia, Miyagi). In practice, I will only eat west coast oysters- there’s such a wide variety of flavors, sizes and textures just from up and down the coast, that is far superior to east coast oysters. I can’t explain what it is, but I think it’s the Pacific Soul.
Next- 1/2 dozen cherry stone clams. I love these cause they’re chewy, juicy, and for their delightful fleshy colors. V was not a fan though.
We got a bowl of the clam chowder to share- it was literally so runny, we were confused. But seriously, this was one of the best clam chowders I’ve ever had. Basically water and clams, and maybe some butter and milk, but mostly just clam juice. It was surprisingly refreshing and flavorful.

Big bowl of oyster crackers- just dig your hands right in!
V wanted scallops, so scallops “Jeff” gave us. He offered them raw sashimi style, or lightly marinated with olive oil, capers and red onions. We opted for the latter. Here he is squeezing lemon over it.

It was such a nice looking dish- and the mushiness of the scallops were perfect with the crisp of the onions. Flavor explosion!

At this point, we were pretty stuffed- “Jeff” kept checking in with us, every time he came back he thought we would be done for sure. NO WAY. He was really good about pacing our meal. He raised his eyebrows when we told him we wanted to finish with the crab salad. And another beer please! They have Stella on tap!

Seriously best crab salad. Their louis dressing is crack in form of a chunky orange cream sauce. Look at these fat pieces of crab!!! It was unreal.
5 courses, 2 beers, 2 hours later, we finally gave up. We surrendered our gluttony-I was sad that it was over. But we had so much fun! Until poor V started having some issues… FYI- Barney’s and Nordstrom downtown have really nice public bathrooms. Note to self- stop while you’re ahead.

V- SORRY!!!! But don’t ever stop eating with me!!!

Swan Oyster Depot
1517 Polk St.
(between California St. & Sacramento St.)
San Francisco, CA
T: 415.673.1101

View of the Bay Bridge on a gorgeous February day. The fog lifted for maybe an hour.

One Comment

  • kayoko
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 7:53 am

    a testimonial from Marc, that i just received via email:

    Just wanted to drop you a quick note to say that we went to Swan for lunch today, at about 1:30. It was great! Sat in the middle of the
    counter and got waited on by one of the younger guys – I think the
    nephew of the guy who waited on you. Had a dozen local oysters –
    Kumamoto and Miyagi from various areas – raw scallops with a kind of
    spicy Asian dressing (yuzu, touch of soy, Sriracha), the crab salad
    and a prawn cocktail, plus beers. Amazing! I really want to drag Jen
    back tomorrow (they’re closed on Sunday) to have smoked salmon and
    uni, which they had in the window but we forgot about. We’ll see. We
    asked them who came at 8am, when they open, and they said mostly
    Japanese tourists. Funny.

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