Swan Oyster Depot was founded in San Francisco by the four Danish Lausten brothers in 1912. Check out the black and white photos on the walls — at one point, it was uncluttered!
Swan started as a fish market. In 1946, it was bought by Sal Sancimino and his cousins Frank, Al, and Pat LaRocca. Sal's kids took over in the late '70s, but little else seems to have changed. That fishmonger sensibility and sense of humor continues behind the some 20-odd stools facing the counter. You get fresh oysters, Dungeness, shrimp, oyster, clams, smoked fish, Maine lobster, and Boston-style clam chowder.
There are two power moves at Swan. The first, ask for the off-the-menu crudo. You get to watch the jocular guys give each other a hard time, while one delicately lays out thin slices of fish dressed with chopped onions, capers, and olive oil.
The second move is chowder, but with a twist. Listen to the advice of the guys who work there. They know. Take some jalapeño mignonette and mix it into the chowder. It gives that creamy soup a zing and zip that you'll be looking for in renditions across the country forever after. And for these reasons this dish made my list of most memorable meals of 2011.