10 April 2007

Lunch at Swan’s Oyster Depot, San Francisco

We left Minnesota early on a Friday morning in March following the heaviest snow storm of the season. I had worked from home on Thursday in order to avoid driving in the mess. I cleared the driveway four times, getting up at 6 a.m. on Friday to clear it one last time before the taxi arrived.

The nice think about taking an early flight to California is that you gain time flying west. So we arrived in the City late morning. We had plenty of time to get settled in our hotel and head off for lunch.

As I explain in one of my later posts, for this trip to San Francisco, my wife and I had picked out a few restaurants that we definitely wanted to check out. (In contrast to our usual practice of just wandering about and eating at whatever place strikes us as interesting.) So we had a couple of places in mind for lunch when we arrived. Swan’s Oyster Depot was the one we picked.

I’m not really sure what we read that signaled to us that this was a place we shouldn’t miss. It was located about a mile from our hotel – a nice way to stretch our legs after being cooped up in an airplane all morning. When we arrived, we both had the same reaction. This is just like Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown!

There’s something about joints like the Swan and Al’s that stimulates intense loyalty by people. There’s nothing fancy or pretentious about them, just good plain food prepared well. At Al’s, it’s eggs, hash browns, pancakes, and waffles. At the Swan, it’s oysters, seafood cocktails, chowder, and salad.

When we arrived at Swan’s, there was a line of people waiting that extended out the door and down the block for 10-15 feet. That’s common at Al’s, and was no problem for us. We were on vacation and had nothing better to do than enjoy the California sunshine (quite a contrast to the cold, ice, and snow we’d just left) and chat with others in line.

Inside, just like Al’s, diners sit on stools in front of a long counter. There’s good-natured banter between the diners and the servers who are behind the counter. (At Al’s sometimes the banter gets a little acerbic.) But everyone’s there for the same reason – to experience good food carefully prepared.

We split a seafood cocktail consisting of squid, octopus, shrimp, and crab. It was marinated in a light dressing of oil and lemon juice. Then we each had a bowl of clam chowder and several slices of delicious San Francisco sourdough bread. The only negative – the butter was not Land O’Lakes. I kind of wished that I’d ordered some oysters. I do like them, and Swan’s reputation is for absolutely the freshest and best. But I decided to forego them. I had an iced tea. My wife had water. That was it. Simple, tasty, a fun experience to start our visit.

We left Swan’s satisfied and ready to explore our favorite city in America.

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