Crack Into Crab Season
Wtih the Dungeness season under way, we catch a ride with a crab fisherman on the steep and lonely swells of the Pacific as he wrestles in the goods. Then we're off to the docks, where the feisty haul is weighed and packed for delivery. Finally we land at Walnut Creek Yacht Club to cook up our catch using the recipes of chef Kevin Weinberg. Come along for a ride and a meal of a lifetime.
(page 2 of 3)
Chapter Two. Brought To Shore
it's 5 a.m. at osprey seafood’s small, well-lit shop, located inside the cavernous warehouse covering San Francisco’s Pier 33, and the place is already buzzing.
Workers dressed in rubber boots and aprons are unloading, repackaging, and reloading all manner of the ocean’s bounty, including iced-down swordfish, tuna, salmon, and shellfish. Everything has to be weighed, partitioned, and out the door by 8 a.m., in time for the lunch crowd. Thus, the insanely early hours.
Mike Weinberg-Lynn, who has owned Osprey for the past 23 years, is on the phone in his office taking orders and listing prices on the day’s catch. He has been up for five hours already, a schedule he’s grown accustomed to.
“The alarm goes off any way you look at it, and it sucks—I don’t care what time it is,” he says.
At Osprey, a seafood wholesaler and distributor, Weinberg-Lynn buys product straight off the boat at Fisherman’s Wharf, via air shipment from locations as far away as Australia, or occasionally from in dependent operators, such as Marc Alley, who drive their fresh-caught fare directly to Pier 33. The day’s catch is then delivered to restaurants across the Bay Area courtesy of Osprey’s fleet of refrigerated vans.
When the local Dungeness crab season rolls around, usually starting in mid-November, those early mornings get even livelier. Not only is there a spike in demand—Osprey can go through as much as 9,000 pounds of Dungeness per week at the season’s height—but unlike most of the store’s other products, crabs are delivered alive and pinching. Weinberg-Lynn’s hands carry the scars to prove it.
“Boy, they hold on,” he says. “They’re kind of like a hyena—once they lock in, they don’t let go. I’ve had to actually rip a claw off the crab in order to get it off my hand. There’s nothing like a Dungeness crab.”
But Weinberg-Lynn wouldn’t have it any other way because as far as crab goes, the feistier it is, the better it’s likely to taste. He also looks for crustaceans with a uniform color, a heavy weight, and intact limbs. Which is why, as with all his seafood, he tries to buy his crabs from the increasingly rare selection of small operators, such as Alley, who tend to produce higher-quality crabs than the bigger boats.
“With the little guys, the product is generally a better quality, it’s handled better, and they take much more pride and care about what they’re doing,” he says. “And they’re not catching massive volumes, so the crabs aren’t tearing each other apart.”
Osprey itself is relatively small as far as wholesalers go, serving 110 to 120 restaurants on any given day. But those restaurants include some of the region’s best. Relying on Osprey’s early-morning deliveries are San Francisco’s Postrio and Betelnut; the five-star French Laundry in Yountville; and Contra Costa’s Prima, Postino, and Walnut Creek Yacht Club. The Yacht Club, in particular, can always count on the freshest crabs available. The restaurant’s co-owner and chef, Kevin Weinberg, is Weinberg-Lynn’s brother-in-law.
“There are times choices have to be made. I wouldn’t deny that—it’s family,” a grinning Weinberg-Lynn says of steering some of the choicest catch to his in-law’s eatery. “It makes those Sunday barbecues a lot better that way."