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Oct 3, 2013 08:55 AM

Crab at Swan Oyster Depot? [SF]

Was in the city on a quick turnaround 2 weeks ago and went into Swan Oyster Depot for lunch. Tried to order some crab and was told that they had no Dungeness, and had not for a month. Will be back in town next week and want to try again. Does anyone know if they have it? Is this a common occurrence?


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  1. Local season starts mid-November.

    This time of year places that have it year-round get it from Alaska or British Columbia. Try Woodhouse.

    12 Replies
      1. re: Dustin_E

        Depends on how fast the commercial crabbers reach the limit and how you define "local."

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          There are no limits on take for commercial crabbers in California. However, they do have a limit on the number of crab pots (traps).

          1. re: baron45

            I think by "limit" RL meant how soon the commercial crabbers collect most (the limit) of the crabs in the area.

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            and when is that usually? january? june? april?

            1. re: Dustin_E

              Varies from year to year. They're allowed to take only male crabs more than six inches across, and stop when they're having to throw back too many.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                i understand it varies. most things do.

                but isn't there some range that captures 75% of when the season ends? like "may to july" or something?

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    thanks. had no idea it varied so wildly.

                    1. re: Dustin_E

                      It's not terribly obvious, since if there's a bad year locally they just bring crabs in from further north.

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I think from a technical, legal standpoint the local season, which starts in mid-November (after the traditional strike for higher wholesale prices) extends through June. But the large-scale commercial season usually peters out in March. After that, there are still some crabbers who have an established customer base that pays top dollar -- either direct to consumer or restaurant contract(s) -- for whom it is feasible to crab further into the spring.

          3. Yep. Swan specializes in sourcing the freshest ingredients and crab season doesn't start for another month. They aren't going to serve something that has to be shipped in from too far away.

            1. I drove by there last Saturday around 3 and there was a long line. Be prepared for a wait.

              5 Replies
              1. re: chocolatetartguy

                there is always a wait. if you get there at 11:00 a.m. you should get in within a half hour or so. any later, at least an hour, maybe 2. i've done it, though. always worth it to me.

                1. re: chocolatetartguy

                  I live half a block away and grab take out... ^^

                  And people in line stare at me like I'm cutting in front... ^o^

                  Love their seafood combo salad!

                  1. re: slew

                    i also very often do the take-out thing.

                    1. re: Dustin_E

                      lucky both of you! jealous.

                      but i do love sitting there.

                    2. re: slew

                      Use to get take out for my grandmother who lived a few blocks away...and a seafood salad as well. Actually I've experienced the food at the counter.

                  2. Commercial Crab Season starts on November 2nd.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jmicheller

                      That would be the opener for recreational Dungeness crab. The commercial season opener is scheduled for 11/15.

                      1. re: Civil Bear

                        As a harbinger of the season, I just saw out my shop window in Sausalito my first truck full of crab pots.

                    2. 30 years living in SF and every time I drive by Swan's I am continually amazed at the line of sheep snaking out their door. Its shucked bi-valves and steamed crab. Not too tough or complicated. I do love the 1950's ambiance but aside from maybe the chowder there is not a lot of cooking skills going on in there. And BTW, I'd much rather buy a live crab from Alioto Sister's down at the dock for $5.95 lb and throw them into boiling water at home then pay Swan's $21.50 for the same end result.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Amishchow

                        when i'm cooking an ambitious dinner, i usually stop by chinatown for live crab/lobster/prawns, and then swans for fish and/or scallops.

                        1. re: Dustin_E

                          Most of the Chinese fish markets have good prices. But you'd be surprised to find pretty comparable pricing at both Allioto's and out at the New England Lobster Co. near SFO airport. Big difference is the crabs and lobster are kept in massive tanks with seawater continuously pumping through them. Versus the recycled stale water in the tanks at the Chinese fish stores. Like all fish, the shorter the time from their natural habitat to your plate. The sweeter the flavor.

                          1. re: Amishchow

                            thanks, i'll have to try Allioto's some saturday morning.

                            1. re: Dustin_E

                              Dustin, it is called Alioto Lazio Fish Company. Kind of cool too in that it is a woman owned business (sisters and cousin's). When I started going there their 91 year old mom used to be there most Saturday's. They close early afternoon on Sat.
                              Yelp it and see what others think. It is a gem.

                            2. re: Amishchow

                              I don't think there's much difference in how crabs are stored at Chinese vs. non-Chinese places except for what you perceive.

                              Crabs are birthed and grow in the ocean and there's literally crap in the water and that's way before it gets to a market.

                              Where ever the place, crabs will need salt water and aeration/ oxygen. If they have those, they'll stay alive and any place selling crabs will have that ability or what's the point? Few people buy dead crab.

                              Also once a crab leaves the sea, they all begin to shrink and no longer eat. This would be the case in a Chinese market or if you booked a room at the Ritz with a salt water tank and aeration.