Crab boats chugged out through the Golden Gate yesterday, dropping circular pots as far north as Cape Mendocino. The local commercial season traditionally kicks off Nov. 15 (give or take), and lasts through May, though the quality and quantity of the catch usually drop off in February. Prices begin high, and adjust as demand levels off, especially after mid-December, the start of the Oregon season.
And while we know from last week's launch of the local sport season that 2009-2010 will prove another miserable year for area crabbers, it doesn't mean we shouldn't celebrate an authentic local specialty. Behold three places that turn into local temples of S.F's iconic crustacean this time of year.• Swan Oyster Depot 1517 Polk (at Sacramento), 673-1101; closes at 5:30 p.m.
San Franciscans have been gorging on local Dungeness here since 1912. Part fish market, part diner (worn marble counter and 18 bolt-down stools, with a zero reservations policy -- expect lines), Swan is the place to let the purist in you rage. What to order: A half steamed Dungeness and a glass of old-school buttery California Chardonnay. And nothing else. The gratis sourdough and butter are accompaniment enough. Feasting at home? Dungies will set you back $7.95 a pound this year. You'd be crazy to quibble.
• Nettie's Crab Shack 2032 Union (at Buchanan), 409-0300
Though the Sunday Crab Feed is a year-round proposition, owner Annette Yang told us the messy, sprawling, family-style crustacean blow-out (comes with sides and dessert) will feature local Dungeness for the rest of the season (The cost: $40 for now, though there are daily fluctuations in price). Nettie's will also feature specials like boiled local Dungeness legs.
• Hayes Street Grill 320 Hayes (at Franklin), 863-5545
Restaurant co-owner Patricia Unterman had a heavy pestle in hand this morning, ready to crack the season's first Dungeness. Hayes Street plunges the crabs in water salted to an oceanic salinity, and boils them exactly 13 minutes. Today, they're being served absolutely plain, with aioli for dipping, next to a pile of grilled artichoke salad, for $19.75. "It's a scarce season and they're a delicacy," Unterman said, "but they're always expensive around the holiday."