Thumbing through the recent fourth edition of the Zagat dining guide to the "world's top restaurants," we found several of the usual suspects in the "San Francisco Bay Area" section (but none in Sacramento). The French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood in the Napa Valley, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Manresa in Los Gatos, Commis in Oakland, and Boulevard in San Francisco were among the 24 entries.
What stopped us - in a gratifying way - was the inclusion of the family-owned Swan Oyster Depot among those high-end dining palaces. The Swan has been around for nearly a century, practicing a brand of lacavorism - salmon, rockfish, Dungeness crab, halibut, sole - before the word was even coined.
Seriously, do you really want molecular gastronomy or a steak poached sou vide when you can opt for the Swan? Walk in and become part of the boisterous crowd, enjoy the camaraderie while you wait for a well-worn stool at the marble counter, check out the first-rate seafood market.
Banter with the cooks (who have a streak of stand-up comic in them), sip a beer, spoon a bowl of clam chowder, tear off a chunk of sourdough bread, crack a crab, dig into a plate of fresh raw oysters on a bed of ice. It's a San Francisco experience that's real, unpretentious and satisfying on many levels.
Among the comments in the Zagat guide, from real Swan diners: "Fabulous seafood so fresh that you expect it to talk back."
The Swan Oyster Depot is at 1517 Polk St. (between California and Sacramento streets) in San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood. Information: (415) 673-1101, www.swanoysterdepotsf.com.
Two more things: Cash only, and it closes at 5:30 p.m.