The wet gloomy days of the Pacific Northwest are tolerated by many mainly due to its natural beauty – surrounding fjords, snow-capped mountains to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west. But the greatest attribute of all is that the surroundings serve as a natural habitat for a great abundance of delicious food, most notably seafood.
Though not in the Pacific Northwest, much is made of San Francisco seafood. Being two hours by plane down the west coast from our residence in Vancouver, I hoped our gastronomical adventure to a San Francisco seafood staple would be a new and tasty experience. After watching Anthony Bourdain’s Layover show in San Francisco, we settled on a meal at Swan Oyster Depot.
For those that do not know much about this place, Swan Oyster Depot is an old-school, no fuss, straight up, WYSIWYG seafood establishment. The restaurant is composed of a counter of about 16 seats. They also do not take reservations but due its popularity, there is always a line to get in.
We arrived at the restaurant just before 10:30 AM. The door was open and there was no line-up but the seats were stacked to the side and the staff were still doing their prep work. At that moment, they were only open for take-out so we waited at a nearby Starbucks. Fourty-five minutes later we returned to an hour-long line-up in the middle of a torrential downpour (you would think that being from Vancouver we’d be used to this).
When we were finally seated we ordered the clam chowder to start. I’m quite used to the thick and chewy Ivar’s clam chowder so prevalent here in the Pacific Northwest and so the Swan Oyster Depot version was quite a change. Its consistency was almost broth-like and contained few clams. In spite of this, it still had the flavours and heartiness of a regular clam chowder and definitely hit the spot. Although perhaps it was just so cold and wet that any cup of something warm would have done it for me at the time?
Our next dish came in the form of a crab salad. The crab was cooked very well and was sweet and tender. The chopped up iceberg lettuce brought a lightness and crunchy texture to the dish. And to complete the salad was a side of louis dressing. We followed up the crab salad with a tasting of oysters: miyagi, kumamoto and blue point. The twelve oysters all came down from the west coast. I specifically requested not to have any oysters from B.C. although I should have requested none from the Pacific Northwest as most of the oysters they served us were from Washington state, which could pretty much be intertwined with B.C. oysters. The oysters were a treat (as fresh oysters usually are), ranging both in size, saltiness and sweetness.
When back in Vancouver, we occasionally buy freshly caught crab from our neighbour (alternatively, one may also go crabbing nearby), steam it and have a fantastic meal out of it. My favourite part is always the crab back. There is just something about the steam and hot liquid oozing out of the crab back followed by the tiny amount of meat and salty soup in the back’s crevices that always leaves me wanting more. I, however, did not get this feeling after eating the crab back at Swan Oyster Depot, mainly because it was served cold. I found the cold crab back, which had been sitting out at the front of the restaurant since they prepped it, to be stale and somewhat bland compared to the flavours of freshly steamed crabs. Anthony Bourdain referred to this part of the crab as the “nectar of the gods”, on most occasions, I would agree. However, when served cold, I beg to differ.
To end our time here, we ordered some uni (sea urchin). I enjoyed the on demand preparation of the uni and oysters earlier in the meal. You can always taste the freshness of the seafood when they do this. The uni served was very smooth, rich and creamy. A very light but solid way to end the meal.
Though our meal here was solid, I cannot help but feel mildly disappointed. Many of the ingredients served were from the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps I should have expected this, after all, San Francisco is just two hours by plane down the west coast. But before eating here, I was hoping there would be some sort of uniqueness or a slight differentiator to the food at Swan Oyster Depot that made me know what San Francisco seafood was all about. Instead, after eating our meal, I was merely reminded of how good we have it up here in the Pacific Northwest.
To view pictures of our meal in its entirety, click through the photo set below. If you are using a mobile device, please click here for compatibility.
Thanks for reading,
C & S