Swan Oyster Depot
This is a post for the Swan Oyster Depot, one of the finest restaurants in San Francisco in anyone’s book. Not pretty, mind you – just darn good fresh fish and great people.
Take cash, and expect a wait, unless you do as Dave and I do and head to Swan Oyster Depot for breakfast, and even then, get there early. Yes, raw fish for breakfast!! Swan Oyster Depot is the consummate venue for fresh seafood, located on Polk Street between California and Sacramento. There’s atmosphere, but not the kind that makes you run to this place. Yet, the long bar and 18 uncomfortable seats are worth it. And almost as good as the food are the guys behind the counter, a group of brothers and sons as it has been since their family bought the business in 1946. (Swan Oyster Depot opened its doors in 1912 originally.) They don’t have a website; in fact, there’s nothing in this place that would let you believe you’re in the 21st century, but that’s what you’ve got to love about Swan Oyster Depot.
They open early Monday to Saturday, 8am, (but as of this edit, they begin counter service at 10:30am) because the bulk of their business is prepping and delivering seafood to their vast clientele. And, they don’t cook much, only lobster, crayfish and delicious clam chowder. They ship their smoked salmon in, some of the best I’ve ever had, and most everything else is raw and oh so good. And, they close at 5:30pm. Family vacation closes the joint, usually around Independence Day. ￼We always start with 18 oysters. Their variety differs. They’re served with a traditional cocktail sauce, and jars of horseradish sauce to heat it to your liking. A giant bowl of lemons awaits. There’s also two vinegar sauces (can someone please help me find the right spelling for minionette?? This isn’t it, and my dictionary and Wikipedia are NOT cooperating!!) – a traditional vinegar sauce with shallots and a spicy one with jalapeno added. I’m becoming more a fan of the vinegar over cocktail sauce as the vinegar enhances the oyster flavor and keeps that oyster brininess as king of the slurp. ￼
The bread – you won’t believe it. The SOD guys tell me that they are one of three restaurants for whom Boudin makes this crusty, only-in-San-Francisco sour dough. When I tell you the other two restaurants, those who’ve experienced them will sit dreamily in awe of this fabulous bread – Sam’s and Tadich Grill!! ￼Their smoked salmon is delicious and you can opt to have it on their delicious sour dough bread or just plain with olive oil, onions and capers. We normally go for the off-the-menu sashimi that’s the freshest and best of what’s available that day. On Saturday, we had scallops, sliced thin, halibut and ahi, all covered with olive oil, capers and onions. ￼
￼Dave goes for the crab cocktail which is exactly that, full pieces and parts of delicious dungeness crab loaded in an old-time cocktail glass. Crabs are lined up everywhere, and they also prepare a large bowl upfront for ease of service and for the locals coming in to order without the pain of the shell!!￼ The clam chowder is one of my favorites. It’s brothy with the appearance of almost-curdled cream. There’s plenty of clams and potatoes, and it’s quite filling.
They make a super crab or seafood salad, and their house-made 1000 Island dressing is really good. They have three beers on tap and a nice selection of wine. Remember, cash only – but they’ll let you head to the Wells Fargo a block away to get $$. You will undoubtedly become a regular at this spot. Swan Oyster Depot rocks!!
Swan Oyster Depot Wrap-Up
- Excellent, fresh seafood
- Sicilian Sashimi
- Friendly wait staff with lots of history
- Long waits
- Only 17-18 seats that are not comfortable
- Seafood could run out long before the 6pm closing time