Vintage S.F.: A Raw Bar, a Hofbrau and a Pancake that Thinks it's a Fish
I missed the Swan Oyster Depot in the past because it's always so crowded at lunchtime (and they don't do dinner). This time I went at 11:30 to beat the crowds. The restaurant has a counter with 20 stools (no tables), and even at that early hour all but two were taken.
The Swan (at 1517 Polk) opened in 1912, and has been under the current family ownership since 1946. It's a classic raw bar and a San Francisco institution. I ordered a bowl of their New England clam chowder and a half dozen oysters, a mix of Pacific and Atlantic varieties (kumamoto, miyagi and blue point). The chowder was excellent--simple and not thickened (a relief from the all-too-often gummy versions). The oysters are right-priced; I think the half dozen cost about $11. The oysters are served with a number of condiments and sauces, including a house mignonette.
Seated next to me at the counter was a woman who was drinking champagne and having a mini-feast. "Champagne at 11:30 on a weekday. Nice work if you can get it," I said. She told me she had just quit her job and was non-stop celebrating before embarking on months of overseas travel. I had originally planned on eating just the chowder and the oysters, but she had a plate of sliced fish that looked fabulous. I asked the counter guy what it was. He called it Sicilian-style sashimi; I might call it carpaccio. She had a combination of albacore, yellow tail and scallops; I substituted sardines for the scallops, wanting something richer in the mix. I'm so glad I ordered this, as it was the highlight of the meal. And at $10 for a healthy serving of sashimi-grade fish, served in olive oil with red onions and capers, it was a steal.
Tommy's Joynt (corner of Van Ness and Geary) has been around since 1947. It's a classic hofbrau, with a bar on one side, cafeteria-style food service on the other, and tables in-between. The cartoony facade is a familiar sight to San Franciscans, whether they've eaten there or not.
I thought about ordering their buffalo stew, a house specialty, but ended up going with a brisket sandwich (a particular weakness of mine) on a sour dough roll. It was served with a barbecue sauce on the side, but I thought it was better served by some spicy mustard. Though a tad too fatty, it was nonetheless quite tasty--a nice $6 sandwich. Tommy's reminded me of the Blarney Stones of New York.
May's Coffee Shop, in the Japantown shopping center, may not be a truly historic place, but it's been around for a while. Anyway, I went by early one morning to try their signature item, taiyaki, a sweet pancake in the shape of a fish. I had the traditional version, which is stuffed with red bean paste, but May's also makes chocolate and chocolate-banana versions.