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Nettie’s Crab Shack

Seafood Shake-up in Cow Hollow

It’s crab season, and out along the pier near Aquatic Park you’ll occasionally find proof of San Francisco’s history as a prime spot for crabbing. There you might come across the odd shell, or the lonely claw, and the warning signs telling tourists not to take any of San Francisco Bay’s precious crabs home for themselves.

So, given our history and location, and the little crab signs throughout the City pointing folks toward Fisherman’s Wharf, there are many complaints from locals about the dearth of great San Francisco seafood joints. Sure, there are some fantastic views and lovely crab salads to be found at Ferry Building, and there are a few upscale Financial District spots that always land on lists of city favorites. Yet, if you’re still searching for fresh seafood in San Francisco, you might want to check out the newly opened Nettie’s Crab Shack.

Contrary to what the name might suggest, Nettie’s is hardly a shack. First off, um, it’s in Cow Hollow/Pacific Heights. Second, it’s located in a venue that over the past few decades has tended toward establishments that offer upscale French dining or hearty steaks. These days, it’s morphed into the sort of upscale pseudo-East Coast dining establishment you might find in Newport near the Breakers.

Furthermore -- and let’s get this out of the way -- not only is Nettie’s a non-shack-like joint, but Nettie’s is not shack-like cheap. It’s not necessarily expensive either, but it’s closer to upscale than casual (and given that you are in the tonier of ‘hoods, you might trade in your hipster Mission Vans for a pair of deck shoes, or Topsiders). Both of these details might be seen as drawbacks, but we couldn’t find any drawbacks in the food.

Truly, who could go wrong with delicious, fresh and briny Pacific oysters ($2)? And who would turn up their noses to perfectly pan-fried crab cakes ($11)? And chowder? Yes, this is the sort of chowder to dream of: bacon-packed with a flavorful and buttery broth with a touch of cream, and chunks of potato and tender clams ($7).

We also liked how we found San Francisco’s own invention, Cioppino ($18), on this East-Coast-centric menu. Against the white tablecloths and bright windows, the red sauce was almost obscene, and we found ourselves fiendishly sopping up the delicious spicy sauce with our hearty bread crusts. But, oh -- the crab! Of course, this is was what we were there for. And the grilled half-crab, with its side of drawn-butter and its chunk of sweet corn bread, was a dazzling delight of crustacean-sea-creatureness ($25). We also loved our bibs -- actually, we had a hard time taking the butter-soaked fashion statements off once we’d completed our meal.

By the time we got to dessert, we were literally ready to be rolled off the plank. But there was one more offering that tantalized our tastebuds -- we were tempted by the mini caramel apples ($3), and we were not let down. Bite-sized Lady apples dunked in creamy, chewy caramel, these were the perfect topper to our meal; we munched the little nibblets down to their core.

There were plenty of other offerings on the menu that beckoned: the lobster roll? The grilled halibut? The steamers? Or what about the corn on the cob for a side? And we really wanted to try the outside seating.

A few days later we had our chance and we shared the Little Gems and Escarole Caesar Salad and a Warm Dungeness Crab Roll ($25) for lunch outside under a heating lamp. It was one of those bright, crisp San Francisco days that you don’t find in New England.

Not only were the sun gods generous, but so were the salad gods -- our chef actually split our lovely Caesar between two classic wooden bowls. It arrived with delicious crisp croutons and just the right amount of dressing. Perfection! But as good as the salad was, the crab roll was completely off the charts -- buttery crab with a light vinegar slaw, served on even more buttery grilled bread with a side of homemade potato chips and bright picked veggies (such as purple cauliflower and baby carrots).

On the plus side, we found Nettie’s had plenty to offer diners: tons of shellfish, kitschy desserts and, of course, a cute waiter wearing puka shells. They also offer a family-style crab feed on Sundays! On the negative side, the décor and location take themselves quite seriously -- and made us feel a bit like tourists.

But if you’ve got the dough, you’re craving a fruit de mer, and you can’t fit in a trip to Nantucket this winter, this is a good place to quell your seafood hankering.

Reservations Accepted