We buy only Dungeness crab that weighs at least two plus pounds (for those meaty legs) and is harvested from the nearby Pacific Ocean. The whole crab is roasted and drizzled with our crab butter sauce.
San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf is a landing spot for many kinds of seafoods, but a glance at the big sign overlooking the parking lot (or at the smaller signs posted around the city pointing the way to the wharf) gives a clue to which is most important. Both signs feature the distinctive shape of Dungeness crab, one of the treasures of the West Coast fish market, and the symbol of the Golden Gate fishing industry.
Most of the year, but especially in winter, the air around the wharf carries the scent of crabs boiling in large outdoor pots, to be sold in walk-away crab cocktails, or taken home to serve as simple cracked crab. Inside the nearby restaurants, they may be combined with other seafoods in a thick tomato-based stew called cioppino, or as chunks of crab meat heaped on top of a salad with Louis dressing.
Native to coastal waters from southern California to the Aleutians, Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) is the main commercial crab species south of Alaska, with important landings in nearly every fishing port north of Santa Barbara. It's a fairly large species, weighing about a pound and a quarter apiece in the minimum legal size (6-1/4 inches across the carapace, or upper shell) and running up to about 3 pounds. Most of the catch is consumed close to home, but some gets shipped to other parts of the country both fresh and frozen.
Around San Francisco, the season usually begins in November, and cracked crab is as much a tradition at some Bay Area Thanksgiving tables as turkey.
The common name of Dungeness crab comes from the town of the same name on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, which in turn was named after a point on the English coast near the strait of Dover. Perhaps coincidentally, the waters off southern England are home to a close cousin of Dungeness crab, the European common or edible crab (C. pagurus).
I'm a best of both worlds sort of person. So when I'm offered a choice, my response is always, I'll take both. That's why, when I learned that I could add the fresh Dungeness Crab to the Zuppa di Pesce at the Crab House in San Francisco, I was able to have the seafood stew I love, with the crab while it was in season.
-- The Food Channel Editor
"I was just at the Crab House yesterday with three more friends and we had another wonderful meal. The service was great as well. The hostess was all smiles and gave us a big thank you for coming as we left. The busboys were very professional and cleared our table without any notice. Keep up the great service!"
"My husband and I visited your restaurant on June 14th and had a wonderful dinner. We ordered mussels and they were absolutely the most delicious I have ever tasted!!"
-- Email from G. Walker
"I had lunch there last Saturday and the experience was great. Your hostess was particularly friendly--usually the staff at touristy spots get a bit jaded because they know most of the customers won't be returning but I did enjoy my visit."
-- Jason Roberts, New York/Seattle
"The crab legs were delicious!!!!!!! We had a very attentive waiter & had a wonderful time. Can't wait til I am back in San Fran to go back."
"I would like to know if I could have some of those delicious crab legs shipped by the pound to Atlanta, Georgia? I was at the Crab House Wednesday evening and the service was excellent. Thank You"
-- Customer Email
"We had a great experience--whole crab on a skillet, bibs and hot towels.
Lots of fun, a local told us about it--a real find. Nice, friendly atmosphere, fireplace at the bar. It's a winner."
...The other night I found myself in the middle of Pier 39 enjoying my time immensely, and believe me, I was as surprised about it as you'd be. It's been my experience that the only good reasons to venture into the vicinity are the chocolate chip cookies at Blue Chip Cookies and the bourbon at the Eagle Cafe -- but that was before I tasted the Killer Crab at the Crab House, a cozy little seafood restaurant on the pier's upper western level.
-- SF Weekly - By Matthew Stafford
"it was a great surprise to find a non-touristy place on touristy pier 39--we took some friends who were visiting from chicago and had such a great time that we will go back. we are natives and always steered clear of the pier but we met some other "locals" who said it's the best kept secret for great crab, great atmosphere (the fireplace was so cozy) and great service. everything was good, the crab angel hair lasagna was out of this world. go and try the place."
-- Citysearch.com - By trapezegirl79
3 Pounds of CRAB!
"We ate three pounds of tender, succulent crab (need I mention that it was covered in a delicious garlic butter). This, plus two loaves of bread and soft drinks was about $50. Not a bad deal for dinner for two with a view overlooking the bay on one side and a open fire on the other. The service was FAST! Your water ties a bib on you and the next thing you know you are knee deep in crab. The instant we finised we were given steamed towels to clean up with. The waiter was very helpful in answering our questions about various menu items."
-- SF Weekly - By nachoman
My Crab House memories...
"As a bon vivant New Yorker, I have learned that NY chefs have no idea what to do with seafood. The crab was the most incredible thing I have had. Going back next week on vacation just to dine at The Crab House. The food was amazing, a brilliant use of garlic and butter."
-- Citysearch.com - By tgaltamore