Crab-cake holiday

Henri takes a trip for Dungeness season, and shares his favorite San Francisco treat

Henri waited till December to redeem the gift certificate Colette gave him for his birthday in July—a weekend in San Francisco, tout seul—knowing he would be rewarded not only with holiday festivities but also with fresh Dungeness crab in high season. I was especially looking forward to crab cakes—a major vice since I first came out to the city in the early ’80s. Though now one of my own specialties, they somehow taste so much better in a restaurant on the water.

And the timing was good: Colette was driving down anyway to visit a friend in Berkeley. She dropped me off at my hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf on Friday evening. “See you Sunday afternoon,” she said, wheeling my suitcases to a stop beside the door to my room.

After a short nap—the ride down exhausted me—I showered and headed out, cozy in a heavy black car coat, which worked divinely with my new carnelian-red wool scarf from Versace and matching beret from

First stop, the third-floor bar at Alioto’s. A glass of pinot grigio and, yes, sir, the crab-cakes appetizer, s’il vous plaît. Delicious, moist, cooked in butter and with just a hint of celery. Perfect as I looked out over the harbor, lights on sailboat rigging reflecting off the water.

From there, a short stroll down a dark, damp film-noir alley to the end of the pier. Scoma’s Restaurant was brightly lighted and full of large groups enjoying the season—the walls decorated with signed photos of celebrities who have visited since the restaurant first opened in 1965. I got a table for one; Dickie Dawson and Dean Martin smiled down on me.

A bottle of fumé blanc, the crab-cakes appetizer and a large bowl of cioppino overflowing with crab, prawns and scallops. Magnifique! I sopped up the last of the delicious red broth with the last of a loaf of sourdough bread, hardly spilling any on my paper bib.

I woke the next morning in a haze, vaguely remembering a dream in which I was stuck in a cage at the bottom of the ocean, my claws unable to open the little door to freedom. I needed to clear my head.

Fortunately, the remedy was nearby: at The Buena Vista Café next to the Hyde Street cable-car turnaround. Two Irish coffees and a crab-cake Benedict later, Henri was ready to face the afternoon.

With another nap.

And so went the weekend, and I must admit that, by Sunday afternoon, I was ready to head back to Chico. Colette, for her part, was aglow on the way home. Apparently, she had a wonderful time with her friend, who’ll be visiting her soon. She wants me to make crab cakes for him.

Henri’s Crab Cakes

1 pound crab meat

4 scallions (or green onions), minced

1 tablespoon celery, minced

1 tablespoon fresh parsley (or cilantro), minced

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup bread crumbs or panko

1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning

dash of red-pepper flakes

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup flour

vegetable oil, for frying

1 lemon, wedged

Mix all ingredients except for egg, flour, oil and lemon wedges in large bowl, keeping the crab meat as lumpy as possible. Season with salt and pepper. Fold in egg—if mixture doesn’t cling together, add more bread crumbs.

Divide mixture into four patties about an inch thick, and place on parchment paper on a large cookie sheet. Cover with a towel and refrigerate at least one hour.

Spread flour on another cookie sheet or in a pie pan, and dip cakes in, lightly coating both sides. Bring oil to a low sizzle in a skillet over medium-high heat, and cook cakes on both sides until crispy—three to five minutes, depending on size. Serve with lemon wedges. (Henri especially loves them with dressed with a bit of wasabi mayonnaise.)

Notes: The Dungeness season lasts through June, but tapers off significantly after mid-January. Also, canned crab works surprisingly well. We’ve satisfied our out-of-season cravings with Boss brand, available at S&S Organic Produce and Natural Foods.