This Valentines Day Jonathan and I decided to do something low-key. A nice bottle of wine (or two), dinner at home, and a long walk with Eddie to Fraiche, our favorite dessert place in Pacific Heights — some of the best dessert in San Francisco.
Perfect! No lines. No over priced star-crossed-lover three-course meals, and an excuse to get some use out of our mid-century dining room table that we just spent a ton of money refurbishing (although I have to admit, it’s a work of art and well worth Jonathan’s money!). There was only one problem….neither of us wanted to come home from a long day of work just to slave away in the kitchen for each other….I know, true love, right?
So we took inspiration from the winter season, and decided on Dungeness crab, which if you didn’t know is at its prime in February. Done…crab for our main and the rest of the meal would evolve from there.
In my opinion (and I think others would agree) the best place in San Francisco to buy any shellfish really, but especially Dungeness crab is the Swan Oyster Depot on Polk Street in Nob Hill. It’s a tiny restaurant with a single row of stools lined up against the bar. The place is always packed with a line out the door and they only take cash (thank god for that ATM across the street). They do a ton of take-out and to-go business, and most people don’t know this, but you can skip to the front of the line if you just want to get something and go. So don’t let the crowd discourage you.
I wasn’t sure if other couples had the same idea so the day before Valentines Day I called in an order for two large cracked crabs and some cocktail sauce mixed with a little horseradish. They were $40, which isn’t cheap, but it’s probably less than what you’d pay in a restaurant for what we got, and well worth it let me tell you.
We put a bottle of Russian River’s (Sonoma Valley) Inman Chardonnay in the fridge thinking a nice crisp white would compliment the richness of the crab perfectly. Oh, and we don’t normally like chardonnays, feeling they’re oftentimes too buttery and oaky. But if you’re not a chardonnay lover, but looking for a bottle you can rally behind….do yourself a favor and try this. It’s fruit forward, but not too sweet. It’s got some heft to it, but not creamy and fatty (IE: it doesn’t leave a film on your tongue that just hangs around for awhile).
The day of we tried to add a few more items to the table. Since we’d just received two artichokes in our CSA earlier in the week and their expiration date was fast approaching we thought we’d cook those. One of our favorite dishes from the Woodhouse Fish Co. restaurants are their grilled artichokes stuffed with crab and baby shrimp, so we were confident the combination would work. It only took Jonathan a few minutes to trim them up a la Jacques Pepin and steamed them with a little lemon juice in the water (so they don’t turn brown) with some slivers of fresh garlic and butter shoved down in between the leaves (adds tons of flavor). They were excellent with the clarified butter, which served a dual purpose when we used it for the crab.
Since the dinner was turning into an homage to cholesterol-rich foods we decided to just turn this into an LDL party for two and top things off with one of our last cans of goose liver pate from Paris. We’d purchased the fatty rich foie gras from the Lafitte foie gras monger at a farmer’s market a few blocks from the St. Michelle train station on our last day in Paris. We used the excuse of it being our last-ditch effort to get rid of some Euros we didn’t want to get stuck with, when in fact we knew very well that the ban on foie gras in California was still in place and we really just wanted to stock up on fatty bird liver!
We brushed some olive oil on slices of hearty thick-skinned multi-grain wheat bread from the recently opened Josey Baker Bread on Divisadero and crisped them up under the broiler into crostinis.
Crab crackers and scissors in tow, the two of us sucked, slurped and picked every last morsel of deliciously rich and fresh tasting crab out of those cracked shells. The cocktail sauce mixed with the clarified butter was indulgent to say the least, but I didn’t care.
It was Valentines Day! An excuse to splurge in the name of love….and besides, I could always push my cholesterol blood test a few weeks out.