Monday, August 15, 2011

Away Game: San Francisco

Over the next few months I'll be doing some travel to various locales in the U.S. and elsewhere.  Figured I'd eat some delicious food on the way and tell you all about it.  When I'm outside DC, it's the Away Game.

I was in San Francisco this past weekend and grabbed dinner at Tadich Grill on Friday.  Tadich Grill is billed as the oldest restaurant in San Francisco having been founded by in the 1800s as a tent coffee shop by two Croation brothers and evolving from there and eventually finding a home on California St just a couple blocks from the Embarcadero.

The first thing you notice when you walk in is the age of the establishment, not in a run down, call the health inspector kind of way, but in a "I just went back in time" sort of way.  The next thing you notice is the massive counter that runs the depth of the restaurant.  On the other side of the counter are small table and then even a few booths which would provide a good degree of privacy for a small group.  Also of note, all the waiters (I didn't see any waitresses) wear white coats that reminded me of front of the house butcher coats and ties. Even the bar backs wore ties.

I grabbed a seat at the counter and every seat comes outfitted with a quarter loaf of sourdough bread, butter, and water.  They had a good number of wines available, but I'm more of a beer guy so I ordered a Stella Artois (they also had Sierra Nevada and a couple other beers on tap).  It was a bit chilly on the walk over so I asked my waiter if I should go with the shrimp bisque or the seafood cocktail, I planned to follow up whatever I selected with cioppino so he recommended the seafood cocktail.

I was not disappointed.  San Francisco is renowned for their seafood cocktails and this one was a delicious medley of bay shrimp, Dungeness crab (including a couple whole claws), and a massive prawn.  There was cocktail sauce dabbed over everything, but not soaking everything.  The cocktail sauce had a fantastic bite from the horseradish and I didn't feel shorted on the portion despite the $15 price tag.

Next came the cioppino, a dish native to San Francisco and despite the name not at all Italian.  It's a hearty fish stew and in this iteration there were clams, mussels, bay shrimp, prawns, Dungeness crab, halibut, and sea scallops all combined with a tomato broth that consisted of tomatoes, celery, onions, and some basil and oregano.  It's served with a couple hulking pieces of garlic bread.  In a word, the dish was amazing.  The broth was clearly tomato, but that acidic edge that can make a tomato broth or sauce unpleasant wasn't there.  In fact, the broth reminded me of a light, bean free chili broth.  The whole dish had a seafood chili quality, but I don't want to overstate that taste or turn you off if you're not a big chili person.  It was a seasoning that sat in the background and never over powered the seafood.

A couple more things to note. First, the prawns were again huge, as were the sea scallops.  The scallops were the highlight for me.  I tend to think a well cooked sea scallop is the best bite of seafood you could ever eat and that's what surprised me about this dish.  When you consider the sea scallop being tossed in a hot broth (hot enough to open mussels and clams) you'd think the scallops would get over cooked.  Far from it from what I saw yesterday.  Maybe they threw the scallops in at the last second, but the exterior showed that light rupturing you see along the edges, but no browning.  Inside it was that perfectly soft consistency that tells you the heat just barely got here.  They were so delicate and flavorful it's hard to describe.  When I was finished, I was very full (good thing since the cioppino set me back $30), but it was the right choice.

Overall, I give the restaurant high marks on the atmosphere and that commitment to a time since passed.  The food was fantastic.  The seafood was fresh and flavorful.  The wait staff were helpful and patient.  In fact, my only knock would be the prices.  I think for the food I got my money's worth, but eating at an old west lunch counter basically and racking up a $45 bill just don't seem congruent.  If you decide to go, go with deep pockets so you can get the full experience.  I would definitely go back to get that cioppino again if even for just those two scallops.

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