Recent work obligations took Tamar and I out to San Francisco for a long weekend, where we ate well and spent time with my sister who lives in the area. Luckily, it was also the height of Dungeness crab season. One of these days was spent up in the Sonoma valley. While driving there from the city that morning, we spotted some fishermen selling freshly caught Dungeness crab from the northern shore of San Pablo Bay. We had planned on spending the day doing a moderate amount of hiking and and immoderate amount of wine tasting, and then picking up a crab on the way home to cook up for dinner at my sister's place with a newly-acquired bottle of wine. Sadly, by the time we were on our way back to the city, the crabmongers had packed up for the day, and we went without shellfish that evening.
That night, our dreams were filled with crab. We awoke unsatisfied, and went online to find out where to go in the city to get our crab fix. One consensus choice was PPQ Dungeness Island. Convinced by the establishment name, we worked up an appetite with a beautiful hike along the coast in Lands End before making the short drive over to the restaurant in San Francisco's Richmond District for lunch. The blue crab on the marquee let us know we were at the right place.
Our order was straight forward. We split one peppercorn crab between the three of us, and accompanied it with some garlic noodles and green beans. Before the food arrived, tools were presented to us to facilitate our meal. A sturdy nutcracker to break up the shell and a small fork for meat extraction were all that would be needed for the crab. Plastic bibs (unfortunately with a generic lobster print instead of a majestic Pacific Dungeness) were also brought to us and immediately tied in place while we sat patiently waiting to eat.
After a short wait, our meal arrived. The crab had been roasted before having the legs and claws removed and segmented, and the body meat had been expertly hewn from the shell in large chunks. The entire crab, in pieces, had then been stir-fried in a wok full of chopped garlic, cracked peppercorn, salt, and scallions. It was then offered to us majestically with the hollowed-out shell perched atop the mountain of legs and meat. Truly, a work of art.
We settled into a relaxed, eating routine. A piece of crab was selected from the platter, the shell cracked open, and the meat transfered by fork of fingers from the shell to our mouths. It was excellent. The meat was sweet and firm, and the simple, light flavours from the preparation didn't overwhelm, but rather complemented the gentle crab taste. In the end, the forks were discarded as it was ideal to do the whole operation with our fingers, rubbing the garlic and pepper aromas from the shell onto our hands before licking them off with every bite.
The sides were noteworthy for their quality, but were not as exciting as the crab. The noodles were cooked perfectly and then stir-fried in garlic and oil until lightly toasted. The green beans were sauteed with hot pepper, garlic, and bits of wood mushroom. The three of us probably each ate an entire head of garlic that meal. Sadly, the bowls provided to discard bits of shell filled up as the platter at the center of the table emptied. Our crab had served us well.
Bibs were removed, hands cleaned, the table cleared, and our crab feast came to an end. Maybe next year we'll try doing it ourselves with crab from the seaside, but if not, we know we have a reliable back-up plan waiting for us at PPQ.
PPQ Dungeness Island is located on 2332 Clement Street in the Richmond District in San Francisco, CA. Call (415) 386-8266 for information or visit their website. Dungeness crab season varies from year to year, but generally runs from mid November to mid June and prices can fluctuate throughout the year.332 Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 9412