1517 Polk St, SF, CA 94109 | 415.673.1101 | no website
We went to the venerable Swan Oyster Depot last weekend for lunch, 40 minutes before they open and there was already a line. We were in fact 19th in line (the counter seats 18), which meant that we would not be in the first seating…
But we were the first in line for the second seating, which gave us a prime spot for peering at the display in the front window, and wonder of wonders… we saw a bucket of sea urchin, yes there in the lower right, it’s our lucky day!
I greedily enjoyed the display, it was totally drool worthy.
This Polk Street institution dates back to 1912, and the rickety stools feel like they might be originals. The Sancimino family bought it in 1946, and the seafood counter has been in the family since, it’s still run by the sons. The walls are chock a block full of photos, maps, charts and lots of 49er paraphernalia.
Our neighbors behind us in line were visiting from the east coast and we enjoyed hearing about their eating adventures. One of them had called to inquire whether the crab was okay to eat because of the Dept of Public Health’s warning that potentially deadly levels of domoic acid have been found in Dungeness crab! They reassured her that they are ordering their crabs from Alaska which is not affected by the algae blooms.
At last, we were seated and ordered a crab back ($6), which was brimming with what is known as crab butter or tomalley. It is a rich riot of fat and custardy innards that is insanely delicious sopped up with crusty buttered sourdough bread. Even Mr. K dove in with enthusiasm.
We shared a medium sized combination Crudo plate, packed with thick slices of bonito, scallop, ahi tuna, hamachi and salmon topped with coarsely chopped onion and capers, and drizzled with fruity olive oil. A few squeezes of lemon, a sprinkle with salt and pepper, scrape off some of the onions and we are smiling with each luscious bite.
We watched quite a few of the sea urchins being cleaned across the way with great interest.
Here it is, it looked like a lot, but each bite was so light and ethereal, it was like swallowing clouds that dissolved in your mouth leaving a rich taste of the sea. This was my favorite dish of the meal, it was beautiful and pristine, like a bowl full of wild and unforgettable uni mousse.
We decided to go small on the oysters, since we have reservations for a picnic at the Hog Island oyster farm up in Marshall in a couple of weeks. We got a half dozen mix of west coast oysters ($18), and found we liked the creamy kumamoto the best.
One more plate of the scallops and bonito. It was so fresh, the scallops were sweet and melted in our mouths, I love this simple presentation.
And to finish off, we had a small crab cocktail draped with fresh salmon roe, which were sweet and popped with briney explosions that added glamor to every bite. We drizzled mignonette and squeezed fresh lemon overall and lost ourselves in the seafood parfait.
Tom Sancimino, whose family runs the shop has worked here all his life. He is a master at slicing the smoked salmon paper thin, we got some wrapped up to go. He suggests that you call in a to-go order, to avoid a long wait in line, but there is something magical in the experience of hanging out at the counter watching the guys deftly shucking oysters and slicing up fish… The total cost of our meal including drinks was $106, this seemed quite fair as I felt that we ate like royalty.
The next morning the paper was glistening with rich fat from the thin slices of salmon.
We enjoyed it on buttered toast with scrambled eggs and I felt like we got to prolong the magic of our meal a little longer.