Its easy enough to joke about the Old Clam House and, of course, I will. However, it will be more with an affectionate chuckle.
Surprisingly, on my second visit there in more than two decades I found the food to be hearty, tasty, fresh and more than generous. Im having my dinner as I write this with the leftovers from lunch.
About the fried clams with bellies it says on the menu when available. Today wasnt one of those days. However, you might give them a call if you get a yen and check availability.
The meal started with a complimentary white mug of clam broth gently flavored and it had tiny bits of carrot, onion and celery when you hit the bottom. The amuse buche of the Old Clam House, so to speak. I did think whats this? Is it a finger bowl? Glanced around to see that no one was looking and took a sip. I was relieved that this was indeed something for internal rather than external use.
Although my memories of the clam chowder were dreadful, I ordered a cup. It was as fine as any Ive had on the West Coast which is to say, Id skip it. It was fair. Heavy on the flour and potatoes with a guest appearance of some clam pieces. There was a nutmeg like spice as well. Better than Progresso, but Id still recommend skipping it.
I ordered the Chef Special Sautee red snapper, scallops, shrimp, mushrooms, two in shell clams and two in shell mussels sautéed in garlic and marsela, sitting on a bed of fettuccine and topped with hollandaise.
The presentation of ALL dishes at the OCH seems to be heap the serving as high as possible on the dish without the food sliding off. Really, every table seemed to have these mini mountains of food served didnt matter what it was. As a sort of flag on the mountain, there is some sort of garnish In one dish it was huge, fresh fried potato chips.
In my case it was what seem to be the signature garnish a round slice of lemon with fresh parsley stuffed in the middle. Except for the lamb chop with a sprig of rosemary planted in the center like a flag that I had at Boulevard, this was the silliest thing I have ever seen in my life.
So I look at this huge cream colored pile of shrimp, scallops and snapper topped with the lemon garnish, this Everest of seafood, and an eyebrow shoots up involuntarily. Now here I am alone, so I choke down a giggle it is never good to be seen at a table by yourself chuckling out loud. It didnt help that at that moment the juke box started to play Elvis singing In the Ghetto. The OCH is in a certain time warp.
My ha ha changed to ahhh when I took a bite. The fish was super fresh and not overcooked. They did a delicate tightrope act where the fish was lightly cooked without being raw. It had the fresh taste of the sea and was succulent. It wasnt pretty, but it was delicious. Im still not sure about the wisdom of topping the al dente noodles in a white garlic sauce with hollandaise. Wait, let me take another bite. Hmm the hollandaise brings out a richness to the noodles. Decadant. Maybe a good idea after all.
If there was dessert, I didnt even want to look at it. Halfway through this seafood extravaganza I shut down.
If you like garlic, I think you will like the Old Clam House. As you approach the restaurant, you are surrounded by the appetizing aroma of garlic. You dont notice it on the way out because for the rest of the day, you are surrounded by the aroma of garlic.
Special of the day was a unique version of surf and turf veal and prawns.
When I first moved here after growing up in New England, the Old Clam House was one of my first stops. There was a major shock about the difference between East Coast and West Coast seafood. I was looking for a fried clam fix.
I can see why my New England sensibilities were offended. Clam strips instead of clams with bellies. The cherry stone clams are steamed rather than raw as God intended them to be. The chowder was only fair..
Going in today, I didnt have East Coast expectations. I decided to see how the place fared without that comparison. There is nothing subtle about the Old Clam House. They hit you in the face with strong flavors
These really are the biggest portions on the West Coast. A fried fish sandwich stuffed into a roll reminded me of the gaping jaw of a shark swallowing a school of fish. The roll tilted at close to a 90 degree angle. The crab louie that passed by was a mountain of crab. The cioppino towered like a massive volcanic island jutting up and barely contained by the large white bowl and topped with a hunk of garlic bread.
Besides the standards other items include:
Hot crab sandwich topped with cheese and hollandaise sauce, You can have shrimp instead of crab in the same preparation.There are also cold crab and cold shrimp sandwiches.
There are seafood omlettes. A few beef and hamburger selections are available for the non fish lover. Those where HUGE hamburgers. I may go back the next time I get a craving for a burger or a NY steak sandwich.
There are a few pasta dishes including linguine vongole which is described as creamy buttery baby clams in a red or white sauce.
Specialties of the house include
Steamed Cherrystone Clams Bordelaise (huge heaping bowl of clams in shell)
-Mescalanza scallops, prawns, mussels, crab legs, oysters rockefleer served with bordelaise sauce
Clambake special steamed clams, scallops, oysters, mussels, crab legs prawns and an ear of corn served in broth
Seafood curry = fresh diced red snapper, scallops, shrimps served over a bed of rice
Seafood Provencal - prawns, scallops, crab claws, mussels served over angel hair pasta and a light marinara sauce.
For lunch specials there are
Angel hair pasta with salmon, rock shrimp and scallops in a white wine sauce
Maybe Ive had one too many frou frou seafood dishes with a single perfect day boat scalllop perched on some exotic veggie. Maybe the silly $14 chowder at Hog Island did me in. But I liked lunch at the Old Clam House today. It was honest food, at a good value with a lot of flavor.
Didnt like the bread which had been sitting out too long and dried on the ends. It perked up sitting with the egg noodles that I took home. The veggies were merely steamed and a bit too al dente.
The restaurant has a big bar with a half of a red jaguar over it, license plates from every state line the walls along with pictures of old San Francisco. Every neon beer sign invented seems to glow over the wooden bar that has barstools with uncomfortable looking metal tractor seats. There is a lovely tin ceiling. Signed pictures of faded celebrities who ate there greet you as you enter. Lonnie Anderson during her WKRP days smiles at you.
The place is loud. Adding to the Barbary Coast atmosphere was a drunken woman with grey hair in a red polka dot smock who stopped all conversation by bellowing Lets get some service over here. She reminded me of Liz Taylor in Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolfe. I almost suspected she was hired for atmosphere until she stumbled out of the place.
The waiters in white aprons seem perpetually hurried. The female bar staff is friendly and the type to call you hon and dear.
There is brunch when there is a 49rs game.
The Old Clam House has been in the same location since 1861 when Lincoln was president and the Gold Rush started. At that time it was a waterfront establishment serving local dock workers. You could get a bowl of steamed clams with a beer for five cents.
It was Friday and the Catholic in me was craving fish. Being on Bayshore, I considered McDonalds fillet and thought I must be able to do better than that. A parking place opened in front of the Old Clam House so I gave it a second shot. Im glad I did.
BTW, McDonalds, fearing competition with the fillet o fish will tow your car if you park in their lot and eat at the OCH according to a sign.
299 Bayshore Boulevard
San Francisco , CA 94124
Phone: 415 826 4880
It seems that the restaurant has branched out and there is a location in San Jose on 86 North Market St.
Appetizers $8 15
Salads $8 15
Omlettes $9 12
Sandwiches $8 12
Entrees $10 20 with most around $15
Lunch specials $9 - 10
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