Monday, March 26, 2007

A Stop at the Depot

Today, Karen and I enjoyed an extended weekend as we took our first days off from work in quite a few months, going back to our vacation to Hawaii. We decided to take advantage of the off-day by paying a lunch visit to Swan Oyster Depot (1517 Polk Street; 415-673-1101), the venerable San Francisco dining establishment located in Polk Gulch.

We have been talking about going there for quite a while, as we are both fans of oysters and seafood in general. However, they are only open until 5:30pm on weekdays. During the weekends, they are closed on Sundays and usually have a line out the door and down the block all day Saturday. Fortunately for us, with the cold and rainy weather today, the line was very short. While we waited outside the door for the noontime crowd to empty out, we admired today's assortment of seafood through the front window.

While we stood in line, we saw a number of people coming by to pick up some fresh seafood to go, choosing from a wide assortment of fish and shellfish that included lobster, Dungeness crab, smoked salmon, clams, scallops, shrimp, and mussels. Of course, there was a variety of oysters as well.

After a short wait, a few spots opened up in the twenty some-odd stool counter that constitutes the dining area of the restaurant. We saddled up to the worn white marble-topped bar, which looks like it dates back to the restaurant's opening in 1912. Unfortunately, the bar stools felt like they were just as old. After a quick perusal of the large menu hanging on the wall behind the counter, we decided to start with an assortment of raw oysters. Since they had seven different types of oysters in today, we decided to order two of each. Within a few minutes, we were presented with an ice-lined tray of freshly shucked oysters:

The bar was filled with all of the accoutrements that we would need for our dining experience: lemon wedges, Tabasco sauce, oyster crackers, and grated horseradish that we could use to spice up the cocktail sauce that our server handed to us in a shrimp cocktail glass.

The oysters were wonderful. Our server listed off the types of oysters to us, which we promptly forgot, though I seem to recall some of them were Blue Points, miyaki, and Kumamotos. Though the oysters varied in taste, all of them were fresh and full of briny flavor (which is a good thing!). After polishing off the oysters, we both ordered a bowl of the clam chowder. Karen also ordered a seafood cocktail and I opted for the combination louie salad.

The chowder came steaming hot in large bowls. The consistency was a bit thinner that what I'm used to in a clam chowder, but it was flavorful and a nice soup for the cool and rainy weather today. Karen's seafood cocktail varied from the more common shrimp version by including Olympia oysters and lump crabmeat, all smothered under a generous amount of cocktail sauce. My salad was made from a huge portion of bay shrimp, prawns, and lump crabmeat heaped on top of a bed of iceberg lettuce layered with louie sauce. The seafood in the cocktail and in the salad was fresh and very tasty. Both the salad and cocktail were quite good and filled us up. Nevertheless, we decided to finish off the meal with a "dessert" of our favorite oyster from the raw bar, the Blue Point.

The food at Swan Oyster was very good, especially the freshly shucked oysters. The next time that I go back (and I definitely hope that there will be a next time), I might end up just ordering raw oysters. The service was quite fast and the people very friendly. During our lunch, we were helped at one time or another by every person working behind the bar. It was a nice dining experience and one that I hope to repeat soon.

Now, if they would only do something about those bar stools...