Swan Oyster Depot San FranciscoPosted By Jennifer Ho Nov 02 2014 · 0 comments · Dining Out
Dead and gone to seafood heaven. That’s what happened to us when we visited Swan Oyster Depot in SF a couple weeks ago. The 100 year old SF institution is known for its insanely fresh raw bar offerings, the casual and informal dining style and the long lines of locals and tourists eagerly waiting to get a taste. Named by the James Beard Foundation as an American Classic in 2000 and featured by Anthony Bourdain on The Layover, the restaurant receives hundreds of visitors a day that come from far and wide.
Both a fish store and a restaurant, patient diners line up around the block while those looking to buy their daily fish step to the front. Menus are written on the wall with specials changing on a day to day basis. Almost everything is served raw, on crushed ice, in cocktails or in salads.
We had planned to arrive a little before 11AM, which would have put us in the first seating. A couple of delays set us back so we showed up ten minutes after opening, which created an overall 25 minute wait for us. Manageable, but totally avoidable. Recommendation is to arrive before 11 AM if you want to be guaranteed a spot ASAP.
The decor ranges from mounted turtles to vintage rotary phones and cash registers to signed sports jerseys and framed photographs accumulated over the years. Just being there feels different, weighty and special, almost as if you’ve been let in on a great secret. With the friendly advice from the guys behind the counter, we made a couple of choices, the first of which had us starting off with a bowl of clam chowder. We went for the small size to pace ourselves, but found ourselves quickly wanting more. Paired with the house bread and butter, we topped our bowls off liberally with a handful of crackers. The half dozen oysters, a mixture of plump and fatty, salty and sea tasting all contributed to an amazing start.
Quickly thereafter, the combination seafood cocktail made its appearance. Oysters, sweet shrimp, crab and lobster all in this glass goblet. Dipped in your choice of cocktail or special Louie sauce (made from a mixture of mayo and ketchup that tastes a lot like Thousand Islands dressing), this thing disappeared in seconds. Same fate for the crab cocktail.
The smoked trout was sprinkled with capers and chopped onions, equal parts smoky and salty, though this was probably our least favourite dish of the lot.
For me, the uni was one of the most special dishes we had here. This is the freshest I’ve ever seen sea urchin prepared – we watched the urchin get cut and cleaned out, with the meat delicately placed on the shell. The meat literally went directly from the shell to the plate to our eagerly waiting mouths within minutes… Even the spikes on the urchin were still moving. Needless to say, it was delicious.
The mix of scallops, tuna and salmon on the combination carpaccio platter was served in oil with lemon, capers and onions. At this point, we’re feeling pretty much on top of the world.
The crab was cracked for us already, making working the meat out much easier. This is by no means a neat dish to eat, but part of the fun is getting your hands dirty.
The fish is extraordinarily fresh at Swan Oyster Depot, but that’s not the only thing that makes this place special. The cache is in its’ rich history, the friendly service and the uniqueness of its’ storied atmosphere, something that can’t be replicated anywhere else.