Many of my friends in the city have told me it isn’t Christmas without crab. When you’re talking local, sustainable seafood, this delicacy tops the list this time of year (Seafood Watch has given the crabs a rating of “Best Choice“).
But the beloved and much-anticipated season almost didn’t happen at all. When fish brokers threatened to cut the price of crab, it set off an eleven-day strike, with boats in the ports of San Francisco, Bodega Bay, and Half Moon Bay refusing to budge. When the opposing parties finally reached a compromise last week, the boats sailed.
Though it was a close call, crab season is back on track and poised to make many people smile this winter.
Here are the best places to take part in the Dungeness crab tradition in San Francisco:
When I polled my friends in Northern California about the best crab spots in the city, Swan Oyster Depot came up time and again (along with a caveat about the long wait). This year marks their 100th year in business, and they’re not going anywhere soon. It’s tiny (they have only 12 bar stools), but the lip-smacking array of fresh-as-can-be oysters, crab, shrimp and chowders on offer makes Swan soooo worth waiting in line.
Nettie’s Crab Shack in the Marina boasts that “local crabs are better than ever,” and is serving a warm Dungeness crab roll and a Cobb Louis salad with Dungeness crab, avocado, beets, and egg. They also serve nostalgic desserts like butterscotch pudding and warm apple and pear crisp.
At One Market restaurant in the Embarcadero District, Chef Mark Dommen always features Dungeness meat in crab cakes and in a salad, currently one with green papaya, pomelo segments, peanuts, and micro cilantro. To ensure optimal taste and freshness, they purchase live crabs every day and cook and clean them at the restaurant.
Anchor and Hope, another favorite, claims to be an East-Coast-meets-West-Coast fish house. Housed in a turn-of-the-century warehouse — with a little grit on the brick exterior and with a modern studio feel on the inside — its setting is just plain cool.
I don’t ever need convincing to go to San Francisco. But this time of year, I admit I’d just go for the crab.
But while I’m at it, here are a few other festive things on tap around town:
When you think of cities with that quintessential holiday feel, San Francisco doesn’t necessarily come to mind. But the city really does deck itself out.
“You can experience all the joys of the season without the cold weather,” says Bill Sutton, chief concierge at the InterContinental San Francisco. ” We have ice-skating rinks, holiday trees, a Dickens fair, and San Francisco’s own traditional holiday meal of cold cracked Dungeness crab, sourdough bread, and a nice California Chardonnay.”
San Francisco also hosts a few of my theater favorites, like “The Velveteen Rabbit” and “A Christmas Carol,” but you can’t leave the city without paying a visit to the Westin St. Francis to see its annual sugar castle, topping out at 12 feet tall, and decorated with top names we know from 2012, like politicians, celebrities, and athletes.