swamp in the richmond.....going cajun in the fog
I called up Ms. O and said "let's have dinner!" "Okay, where?" she says. This time instead of my standard, "I don't know, what do you think," I actually had a place in mind that just so happened to be our her work way so she wouldn't have far to go. Me, on the other hand, schlepped all the way out to the windy, foggy (is there any other?) Richmond district to nosh at Swamp. No, they don't have a website! Or do much with their Facebook or any other social media in this age of social media. So how did I know about them? In the old-school way, I'd walked by them once or twice and the menu seemed interesting enough to want to try. Though I will say, it was a couple years between seeing and trying. They seem to have lasted and I took that as a good sign.
They are sort of a Cajun, Creole, Asian fusion seafood joint. Yeah, it's a lot of monikers, but perusing through the menu, rather apt. Me and Ms. got there right as they were opening for dinner so we had the place to ourselves for a bit. See....
Turns out Ms. O and her BF had been there before (more than once) and she likes the place for the most part. Plus, she said if you come early they do happy hour on beer and appetizers. Well, we were early and sure enough, drafts were like $3 or $4 or something and appetizers were only $5! Could this be a bargain in San Francisco?! Only way to find out is order something.
Seems the oysters are also $1 and here we have 6 of 'em. To be fair, I frickin' hate oysters. I've had them every which way you could, including battered and deep fried, and I still just cannot get past the look and the texture. Then there's that briny, fishy taste, no amount of lime juice or horseradish will kill that for me. All around, not a pleasant experience. Thus I leave this all to the expert here Ms. O--tender, not too big, they get them fresh daily, a little brine, a hint of sweet and voila! She likes them, so there you go.
For $5 you get 5 pieces of catfish battered and deep fried with a side of tartar sauce. Hard to really mess this up unless the catfish is rank or something and thankfully, here it is not. Hot crispy crust outside, tender flaky white fish inside. For a happy hour app it was pretty good. Throw in a side of fries for $3 or so and you got a decent fish and chips meal.
Seems me and O can't go anywhere and NOT get fried calamari. It seems to be an appetizer at pretty much every restaurant in this town, including ones you'd think wouldn't have it. I'm sure there's a reason for it, not sure what though. Still, if we see it, we get it and how can you pass up a $5 one? For price it is a decent enough serving. The outside is the same batter covering as the fish above. Added bonus for being first and only at a place, everything is cooked to order and comes out hot and crispy. The squid was just on the edge of chewy, sort of al dente as it were. Not the most interesting version we've ever had, but in this setting, good enough.
For the entree, they do these boils where you choose your seafood and what kind of flavor you want it to have--Cajun, Old Bay, lemon pepper--that kind of thing. And they have a combo deal where you can choose 2 items for $12 a pound. Depending on what you get and how hungry you are, this could add up quickly. Fortunately, we'd been through a couple appetizers and decided to limit ourselves to a pound and a half for $18.
We chose shrimp, since we both are fans and mussels as the shells on them are light and won't cut into the poundage much. As for boil flavor we got garlic and butter because, duh, BUTTER! At first it didn't look like much, but when you spoon through, it was. Large prawns and nice sized mussels in a steaming metal bowl. We let it sit a bit so the shrimp could soak up all that butter flavor. You can see the shrimp was peel yourself and it can get kind of messy. Ask for extra napkins and wet wipes upfront in case they don't bring enough for you first time around.
The shrimp was cooked just about right and I got plenty of garlic and butter in each bite. I guess when you have to work for each bite, it probably makes it taste better and you do have to work to get the shell off these slippery things. We got more than enough shrimp to satisfy both of us. Same with the mussels, plenty to go around for 2 folks, though these were a bit hard to get off the shell and on the chewy side. Edible, but not the best I've ever had. Still, we both got our fill. One thing they don't just give you here is bread, ya' gotta pay for it. Maybe if it was some Tartine or Josey Baker bread, but for store bought, not happening. Meant I didn't soak up the garlic and butter sauce, which would have been nice for a few bites.
For roughly $34 (not including tax and tip), it was a filling and satisfying meal for 2 people. A modicum of a rarity in San Francisco for a sit down non-Chinese, non-Mexican restaurant. Sometimes seafood in town can be pricey, which has always seemed odd to me considering WE ARE RIGHT ON THE DARNED OCEAN! But that's a discussion for another day. The flavors aren't going to wow you but Swamp and it's happy hour were worth the bus ride to the outer reaches of SF for some fresh, decent and not too costly seafood. Considering my only other option for getting cheaper seafood would be foraging or fishing or crabbing and we all know that ain't gonna happen. I mean SF Bay is nasty and as for the ocean, I've seen "Jaws", so no.