In search of crab...
I am looking to take my best friend out to dinner for her birthday in a couple of weeks. She loves crab, so I have been trying to think of a place that might suit the occasion.
To set the stage, money isn't really much of an issue. I'm not looking for a trip to French Laundry, but I don't think there are any restaurants in the city that are too good for her birthday. We might have a cocktail or a glass of wine, so alcohol really isn't too much of an issue. Atmosphere is negotiable, too. We would both be comfortable in a dive in the mission or a place like the Dining Room. I would probably prefer some place toward the higher end of the scale since it is a birthday, but it's not a big deal. As for location, I have a car and don't mind driving, but I would prefer to stay within San Francisco.
What I am looking for is a place that has a really good crab dish for her, as well as something without crab for me. I can find something anywhere though. She tends to be pretty basic in tastes, so nothing too avante garde. I would think that crab should definitely be the main taste of the dish, which means freshness is probably key. This brings up another question though. Normally finding fresh crab would be no problem at this time of year, right? Has the oil spill affected this at all in the local restaurants? Is fresh crab still available?
If this sounds like a tough bill to fill, can anyone recommend a good seafood restaurant in general? I was thinking Aqua. Is it worth the splurge?
Thanks in advance for all your suggestions.
There's been a couple of other threads on other boards about the crab season in the Bay Area. The season did start on time and crabbers put pots in the water on opening day as expected. Some restrictions were placed so crabs in spill-affected waters are not taken. Some places are selling local crab (it was about $4.50-$5/lb), but others have crab being brought in from Oregon and Washington. Although I don't have any restaurant recommendations for you, when you do get some I would definitely give them a call and ask where the crab is sourced from.
The season did technically start on time, but local crabbers are refusing to put out pots. Snipped from the SF Chronicle:
On Wednesday, the Department of Fish and Game banned fishing and crabbing in ocean waters between Pedro Point in San Mateo County and Marin's Point Reyes, within 3 nautical miles of the coastline, as well as all bay waters west of the Carquinez Bridge.
Ocean waters outside the 3-mile zone, where almost all commercial crabbing takes place, remain open, as does the ocean directly off Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay.
But local commercial crabbers have stated they are unwilling to set gear in any of the waters because even the allowed zone might be affected by remnants of the fuel spill. They also are unsure if there is a market for Dungeness caught in local waters because of possible contamination.
For your friend's basic tastes, Sam's Grill (374 Bush) has a pretty good crab au gratin, as well as other crab dishes (sauteed crab legs?). Their seafood is all reliably fresh.
I'm fairly certain I had fresh-local-crab at Duarte's on Saturday. The place was fairly packed at 3pm (1 hour wait) so I had a crab sandwich while sitting on the curb. It was *very good eating*, lots of crab and sweet as sin, warm bread after a cold ride, say what you will about Duarte's in general.
Andronico's has been selling washington state crabs, no local yet.
Regarding the question: in SF, I've had the best seafood at non-seafood restaurants, like a salmon several years ago at Boulevard that I can still taste. You might consider making a list of all the usual suspects and calling around. Would Tadich serve crab in season? Crab is often a good Vietnamese staple - perhaps Slanted Door will have a special? Bong Su? Ame? Myth? Even CP upstairs - big on the local-fresh-inseason, of course.
Can't comment on Aqua.
Another option that I've done before is (perish the thought) fisherman's wharf. Start the evening by going down there, walking among the vendors, buying a single crab (require them to boil it in front of your eyes, do allow them to crack it; accept no precooked), eat it right there standing up, as an appetizer, then head off to your reservation. Could be a fun start to an evening.