Scoma’s, the seafood institution sitting on the dock of the bay, is an experience this time of year, surrounded by boats decked with twinkle lights. Families and friends pull up to the valet, and scoot into rich leather booths, greeted by servers they’ve known for decades. But now, with the city locked down, the restaurant had to lay off half of their few remaining employees. “It’s devastating actually … ” says president Mariann Costello. “It’s been very challenging and emotional. We have one server who’s worked with us for more than 40 years.”
Scoma’s isn’t the kind of place where you go to hear the specials, and particularly during December, Dungeness is king. The restaurant usually serves crab in every form, chilled in cocktails, crispy in cakes, sunk in garlicky stews, or simply steamed with sauces. So this year, even though the dining room is empty, they’re still cracking. “We wanted to do something for the holidays, so people could celebrate at home,” says Costello. And no question, “Our classic is cioppino.”
Scoma’s has two options for the iconic fisherman’s stew of San Francisco. Both are three-course holiday meals, that include a starter, either Caesar salad or clam chowder; the big event with the cioppino; and a dessert, either tiramisu or chocolate cake. The hands-on version is more of a kit, so you get a base for the stew, and fresh fish in the shell, complete with instructions from chef Gordon Drysdale. That’s the whole messy experience, which is wonderful, and honestly even better at home, where it’s less embarrassing to tie on a bib, and take breaks to wash your hands a few times.
But if that sounds like work, there’s also a cheater option. The “lazy man’s cioppino” comes completely shelled, no simmering or cracking required, so it’s ready to heat and eat with only a spoon. And while Cioppino tends to be the Christmas classic, whole cracked crab is the New Year’s favorite, and the restaurant is planning to have those as well, for anyone who wants to throw down a few newspapers and have a crab feed at home.
Despite delays due to whales, the commercial crab season officially starts on December 23, which is no small Christmas miracle. Crab fishermen have had a tough year, after a four-alarm fire on Pier 45 destroyed an estimated $1.6 million worth of gear. But despite losses and delays, from their vantage, Scoma’s can already see boats with pots stacked up, waiting to pull out of the bay. Monterey Fish shared they’ll be sending out boats at midnight to drop pots, so they can pull fresh local crab just in time for Christmas Eve.
Costello points out that it’s challenging to manage preorders for a wild ingredient, so fans of our local crustacean are going to have to walk into markets on Christmas Eve and cross their claws. For now, Scoma’s and any other restaurants who have Dungeness on the menu for Christmas have to be pulling from up the coast in Oregon and Washington, with hopes to switch over to true local crab once the true local harvest comes in.