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SWF Tourist desperately seeking abalone

Hi Chowhounds,
I have visited this board often and it has proven a real gem in choosing restaurants for my visits to SF and the Bay Area.
I am planning to visit again in late April and was wondering if someone cold tell me where to find great abalone? We will be staying near Union Square, but would go almost anywhere in the city so that my friend could satisfy her craving.
Thanks.
Jenny

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  1. Great Eastern in Chinatown has several different abalone preps. All in the $30-$40 range, I think.

    1. What's the current situation on procuring abalone? At one time, it wasn't legal to catch or sell in California, wasn't it? I know there are canned and dried abalone products from Asia. What about fresh?

      Also, I recently saw, for the first time (for me) "red abalone" listed on another post. What is that?

      Could some knowledgeable person fill me in on abalone in San Francisco?

      5 Replies
      1. re: Tripeler

        they grow little tiny ones on farms (there's one near Pescadero, I think); commercial harvest of wild ones is illegal in CA. They're also harvested or grown in Mexico. You can sport harvest wild ones as well (north of SF).

        Red abalone are the standard abalone off the coast--their shells have a red lip.

        1. re: xanadude

          The entire shell is red on the outside.

          1. re: wally

            the outside's usually encrusted with all type of stuff--unless you buff it, I suppose.

        2. re: Tripeler

          There's no commercial fishery for wild abalone, although individuals can take them under very strict rules regarding the number and size of the abalone and the method of take.

          Here's a recent article about abalone farming in California: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            and to further clarify: the individuals who can take them can take them ONLY for their own personal use, not for resale. The rules are getting stricter too, with new tagging rules this year to ensure that each individual doesn't take more than the allowed number per year..

            http://www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/

        3. I haven't tried it, but it's often on the menu at Duarte's in Pescadero. There's an ab farm in Davenport and another one down south between Cambria and Paso Robles. As others have mentioned, sport harvest can only occur north of SF. Many dive shops run trips up to the Fort Ross area and can give directions/permit info if you're interested.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Candice

            A comment on this: I'm no diver, but I know a few...and abalone diving in the Ft. Ross/Mendocino area is no picnic (well, there's often a nice picnic afterwards..:). I would not suggest it to the casual tourist who has not had experience with the surf up there. The swells can be very dangerous; I think people die every year attempting to catch abalone (no tanks allowed, btw, strictly free diving). Sister Susancinsf can tell you more, as she has gone abalone diving...

            Last year my son tried it for the first time. Now this kid is very athletic, a former high school football player who still works out; he was 19 at the time and in top shape. He is an excellent swimmer; and since he was raised swimming in Lake Tahoe cold water doesn't faze him. He was wearing a wet suit and was accompanied by a very experienced abalone diver. Admittedly the surf was particularly bad that day, but he left the water after a few minutes literally fearing for his life. Needless to say, they ate peanut butter for dinner that night :-)

            At the very least I would go with an experienced guide and carefully check surf/weather conditions before leaving. Better yet, camp at Van Damm state park in Mendocino in season (I think it starts mid-April, so the OP would be ok there). Look for groups of successful abalone divers and try and talk your way into the party. Some really good wine and a really good desert might help :-) Thanks to Susan, DH and I were able to crash a diver's abalone party last year....it was great!!!

            1. re: janetofreno

              it really depends on the day and the location--some days and places, it's positively glassy. Others, not so much.

              1. re: janetofreno

                Janet is right -- since there are no tanks allowed, you need to be an accomplished swimmer/diver. Plus, the kinds of implements you're allowed to use to remove the abalone from the rocks are also restricted, so even though you may be able to dive down and find the abalone you still might not be able to "harvest" them. It's not easy, even in good weather!

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  I went diving off the coast of Albion in November and got my limit of 3, but the season is now closed for 3 months.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    In fairness, sometimes, i've gotten legal abs them in 3 feet of water. That tends to be an exception, though.

                    It's generally not terribly difficult to find and harvest 3 legal ones in a few hours in a decent spot in good conditions.

                  2. re: janetofreno

                    Agreed that it's not always easy. I think if people are interested, it's worth the money to go with a dive shop group and to use common sense and not go out when the conditions are bad. Also, a regular surf suit won't do the job, you need a thicker suit or a two piece one to stay warm enough.

                    Otherwise, there are always the farmed abs (at Duarte's etc.) for a low effort treat.

                    1. re: janetofreno

                      There were a number of deaths in the Mendocino area this year among ab divers, yes, it depends on the day and location as Xanadude says, but a big part of the problem is that:

                      1. folks overestimate their abilities;

                      2. underestimate the ocean;

                      3. Feel like they have driven a long way, spend a lot of money to rent gear, or whatever, and are going to get in the water no matter WHAT;

                      4. In some instances have illegal motives for their diving (ie making money by poaching) and thus take more risks than they otherwise would....

                      Unlike Xanadude, I have never seen a legal sized abalone in 3 feet of water in California, although I do a fair amount of diving in CA. I have seen plenty that aren't legal at that depth, but shallowest I have ever seen a legal one is about 7 to 10 feet, and that was at low tide. (Would love to know where that secret spot is Xanadu....it presumably does not have easy access, or the legal abs probably would be deeper... )

                      I have seen plenty at thirty to fifty feet, but I can't free dive to anywhere near that depth (ab diving with tanks isn't permitted....)

                      For those who are not accomplished divers, go with a dive shop, or better yet, join a dive club...and if anyone is interested in joining my dive club (we typically do two ab dives per year, although our main focus is tank diving for recreational purposes: most of us are more into photography than hunting but make an exception for abalone..) email me (see my profile) or check us out online: www.alacosta.org (very outdated website, but has the basic info, we are a club after all, not a commercial shop).

                      I thought I saw abalone on the online menu at Fish and Farm (?

                      )

                      Best restaurant abalone I've had recently was at Asia Pearl in Milbrae. Best abalone I've had was at one of my club potlucks....

                      1. re: susancinsf

                        No, just checked the Fish and Farm website and I must have imagined it, not on the menu there....

                  3. Coi has it on their menu, that might change come April-
                    http://www.coirestaurant.com/menu-din...

                    and Manresa's in Los Gatos about an hour south of San Francisco
                    http://www.manresarestaurant.com/menu...

                    And Koi Palace in Daly City- not local abalone
                    http://www.koipalace.com/shell.html?p...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Lori SF

                      I noticed that Yabbies on Polk had red abalone on the NYE menu. I have also seen it on the specials menu at Pacific Cafe out on Geary. If your hotel has a concierge, ask him or her to scout out a good resto.

                    2. Just thought of asking foodiebytes.com, doh.... Here's 279 places for abalone.

                      http://foodiebytes.com/search.html?t=...

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Xiao Yang

                        yes but where would you recommend out of those 279 places?

                        1. re: Lori SF

                          Actually there are not 279 places but rather 279 dishes with abalone. Many of the restaurants are repeats with multiple different presentations e.g.soup and with mushrooms. Still needs recommendation.

                          1. re: Lori SF

                            Not my area of expertise. I've occasionally had Chinese dishes with a tiny amount of abalone in them, but a major abalone buy is not something I would spring for. My thought was that the menu description of the dish, along with the restaurant's general repute, would provide some suggestions worth pursuing.