Here, in the wild heady throes of crab season, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Every restaurant in The City and beyond is swimming in Dungeness dishes. A firm believer that there’s no such thing as too much crab, I took on the tough job of tasting some of San Francisco’s most iconic crab dishes and seeing how they stacked up against each other.
This is by no stretch of the imagination an exhaustive list — no human could conceivably accomplish that feat — but it is a good sampling of some of the ways to enjoy Dungeness this season.
Salt & Pepper Dungeness Crab, R&G Lounge
This Cantonese spot gets loads of publicity for its signature dish, and it’s easy to see why. When the massive tower of deep-fried crab arrives at your table, the top shell artfully placed on top, gapes and gasps are the normal reaction.
In practice, the dish, priced at $40, is not quite as stunning. Once you’ve spent 10 minutes cracking and poking and scrabbling through piles of meat and shell and fried batter with greasy fingers just to get a bite, the dish loses a bit of its luster. It’s tasty, but labor-intensive, and I had a hard time picking up any discernible pepper flavor.
631 Kearny St., S.F.; (415) 982-7877, rnglounge.com. 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily. Reservations and credit cards accepted.
Half Avocado with Dungeness Crab, Tadich Grill
Portions at this old-school restaurant are zanily large, as exhibited by the half avocado dish ($28) — a multicolored mountain range of chilled fresh crab meat, piles of lettuce, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, parsley sprigs, carrot strips, radishes and (of course) avocado. A lake-size bowl of dressing (your choice — I like tangy French) on the side and a generous grind of black pepper make this throwback dish a satisfying, straightforward salad classic.
240 California St., S.F.; (415) 391-1849, www.tadichgrill.com. 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays. Reservations not accepted, Visa and Mastercard accepted.
Warm Sea Urchin and Dungeness Crab, Anchor & Hope
Anchor & Hope boasts two outstanding Dungeness crab dishes and it was tough to choose one, but in the end the warm buttery beauty of this sea urchin dish ($17) nudged it over the top. You’ll want to savor every spoonful, but don’t take too long: the lemon beurre blanc that ties the potatoes and crab meat together will congeal once it starts to cool, and the bright orange strips of uni that grace the top won’t melt like they should. Eat it while it’s hot, though, and it’s complex and comforting.
3 Minna St., S.F.; (415) 501-9100, anchorandhopesf.com. 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays.; 5:30 to 11 p.m. Saturdays; 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays. Reservations recommended, major credit cards accepted.
Curry Crab, PPQ Dungeness Island
PPQ is not messing around. They do crab and they do it well. While this $40 dish, an entire crab doused in a gallon of curry sauce, may be the messiest item of food I’ve ever eaten, it was worth every stain on my clothes. (They will provide you with a bib once you order; I suggest you use it.) The warm, earthy, cinnamon-tinged curry had the right amount of flavor and heat to complement rather than overwhelm the delicate Dungeness.
2332 Clement St., S.F.; (415) 386-8266, www.ppqcrab.com. 4 to 10 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Reservations and credit cards accepted.
Toasted-Buttered Dungeness Crab Roll, Woodhouse Fish Co.
It seems so simple: an airy-soft roll, toasted golden, split open and spread with melted butter, filled with a mound of crab meat, topped with a sprinkling of chives. It’s a love letter to the essence of Dungeness: sweet, buttery, ocean-fresh. I have no words to describe the alchemy that takes place here, but I believe this ethereal sandwich (priced at $18 and $26) is either witchcraft or proof of the existence of heaven on earth. It left me speechless.
2073 Market St., S.F.; (415) 437-2722, www.woodhousefish.com. 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and Sundays; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. Reservations not accepted, credit cards accepted.