Ready For A “Crab-Santhemum”? We Go “Off The Menu” And Dive Into The “Secret” Swan Oyster Depot Menu In San Francisco! Seafood As Art!

Ready For Some “Seafood As Art?”

What you see above is an incredibly delicious plate of “seafood as art” – a “Crab-Santhemum!”

It’s just one of a number of wildly creative dishes from a legendary “hole in the wall” in San Francisco. I’ll explain exactly what it is and where my wife Alex and I got it – time to head to the bay area!

Welcome To The Swan Depot!

We are on Polk Street in San Francisco, a funky street filled with funky shops – and long lines form every single day at The Swan Deport…and Alex and I waited almost an hour to get in…

Yes, this was the place where a man was walking his duck on the sidewalk outside…but it’s worth it, because this place is incredible!

As The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

“Swan Oyster Depot, like La Taqueria and House of Prime Rib, is an essential institution in San Francisco. This holy church of fresh seafood, this bastion of deliciousness, needs no introduction. The 18-seat counter has been around for more than 100 years and is beloved by locals and tourists alike.”

Bizarre Foods Host Andrew Zimmern ate there, and as Eater SF wrote:

But of course. Zimmern waits in line to dine at this Polk Street standby, where his order is a half and half combination salad with crab and shrimp. “To me, this is Swan Oyster Depot, local seafood with louie dressing.” He also notes that “Swan is famous for having more items off the menu than on it,” and gets some “Sicilian Sashimi,” or crudo with capers, sea salt, and olive oil. Plus, “the oyster crackers are free!”

And as you read above, THIS is that “off the menu” dish known as “Sicilian Sashimi!”

As The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

“The Sicilian sashimi is more of an open secret — everyone knows about it. But it’s also not on the menu, so there you go. Thinly sliced raw salmon, tuna and scallops are served simply with a drizzle of olive oil, freshly cracked black pepper and some capers on top.”

With that setup, let’s take a step back and pass the fresh seafood that stares out from the window…we got our seats at the tiny counter – and yes, there is only a counter with barely room to walk behind it – run by the son of the original owners…

Once inside, we perused the menu and read their introductory sign – it tells you all you need to know about this place:

We started with the freshest of Oysters, the only dish we ordered that was officially “on the menu”:

That’s right: just as you saw the “off the menu” item “Sicilian Sashimi” we ordered above, Alex did all of her research, so she knew about all of the secret menu items that weren’t on the board, and just kept ordering “off the menu” items like this:

The Crab-Santhemum!

Yes, it’s a plate of Dungeness Crab legs, arranged as a beautiful flower – it is presented as a work of art and you don’t want to eat it – but of course you do…but as terrific as this dish looks, it gets even better!

A regular sitting next to us was amazed by our ordering, and our Shucker told him he was sitting next to an “off the menu” pro!

Don’t Forget The “Crab Head” Dressing!

Not only is this gorgeous dish a secret, Alex also ordered the incredible dipping sauce that is perfect with it, and of course “off the menu” – made and served in a Crab head!

Normally, this dish is served with a side of Louie dressing – just as a Crab Louie would be….but guess what? The Swan Depot makes an “off the menu” olive oil vinaigrette with equal parts Dijon mustard and crab fat as the emulsifiers.


And they stir it all together right in the crab head, so you get all of the rich juices!

You can dip your crab into the head, and they also put the extra in a container and plop it down next to you – and guess what? The Chef gave our seating companion his own – and told him that Alex was a “pro” at the “off the menu” items!

We weren’t done yet with the secret menu – because up next is one of their most beautiful dishes, inspired by the incredible, edible egg!

Feast Your Eyes On “A Dozen Eggs”!

All you have to do is ask for a “dozen eggs” and here is what appears: thinly sliced raw scallops dotted with Sriracha, resting atop a shallow pool of ponzu. According to the Chronicle, the dish is inspired by a friend and regular Swan Depot customer who owns a sushi joint in the Richmond.

After so much secret stuff, we ended with one of their most popular items, something they are known for:

Beautiful smoked salmon draped lovingly over bread with capers…what a way to finish a meal!

I haven’t mentioned it, but the small staff working behind the counter, inducing the owner, are friendly, talkative and relaxed…they clearly love what they do – oh, and they don’t have a website to run – they just make food.

In fact, be sure to bring cash, because they don’t accept credit cards – look at how our bill was tallied!

We left with great memories, as well as two giveaways from the owner: a souvenir spouse (dried, just add water) and a photo of the gang…and what a great group they are!

Of course, you’ll need this great food after spending some time on “the rock!”

Yes, if you are in San Francisco, you need to take a ferry over to Alcatraz Island, which sits right in the middle of the bay…here is a tour of this infamous prison:

Let me know if you like the idea of eating sauce from a crab’s head!

Categories: Art, cookbooks, Exotic Travel, Food, food blog, Food Review, Memoirs, Recipes, Restaurants, Travel, Travel Adventures, Travel Memoir, Uncategorized, Wacky Food

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14 replies

  1. I rarely have crab but I would definitely go for it if it is speciality. Love these posts.

  2. I am lovin all these little foodie gems you are taking us to, John…I love little places like this so much character along with great food…😀

  3. Now THAT is an amazing meal!!

  4. Despite appreciating how good this must be, I am no fan of raw fish, (except smoked salmon, which isn’t really raw) or crab. I would eat the salmon, and oysters, which I do like, but the rest would have been wasted on me. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

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