Two of us went to try the new Sam's Chowder House on Hwy 1 in Half Moon Bay. At 6:30pm on Sunday, this place was doing quite well with the house being about 90% full. But if our experience was typical, they have a lot to work on if they want to keep that level of business going.
When we arrived, we were assigned our table, and when we were led to it, our hostess found that it had not been cleaned. We were sent back to the front to wait a few minutes and then we were led back to the same table. Bread/butter and water came quickly, but it took about 15 minutes before our waitress came by to ask if we wanted any drinks to start. Rather than risk another long wait, we chose to order the food immediately.
We ordered the fried calamari appetizer to share, and the Pacific oyster stew and Alaskan halibut fish & chips for the main meals. The main dishes arrived about 15 minutes later. The only problem was we hadn't yet been served the appetizer. The waiter went back to the kitchen to figure out where it was. Meanwhile, we notice that he didn't provide a spoon for the oyster stew, so weren't able to begin our meal until we can flag someone down, which turned out to be our original waitress. A few minutes later, the fried calamari appetizer is brought to our table. However, no apologies, no explanation. But after he dashes away, we realize that he forgot to bring the sauces that accompany the fried calamari. Another few minutes to catch the attention of our waitress to have her bring the sauces. All of these minor missteps seemed to be par for the course there tonight, as we observed tables near us having to call wait staff for one thing or another that needed additional attention.
The place was busy, but ironically, we felt that the establishment seemed over-staffed. There were lots of bodies with black Sam's Chowder House logo t-shirts walking around, sometimes chatting with one another, but generally not being too productive or being attentive. I would attribute most of the missteps we observed to lack of experience and training on the part of the staff, and loose management.
The fried calamari appetizer was OK, but the calamari pieces were very small and the fried batter didn't hold on. The sauces were fairly ordinary -- tomato-based cocktail sauce and tartar sauce -- might be commercial sauces out of a jar. The oyster stew was very rich, heavy on cream, but the flavoring lacked complexity. The portion was fairly small--a shallow rim-soup dish with about 4 oysters--for $12. This was supposed to be like the oyster pan roast from NYC's Grand Central Oyster Bar, but it didn't cut it -- we've had better pan roasts in Las Vegas oyster bars. The Alaskan halibut fish & chips were a little better value at $16. It came with 2 small pieces of beer battered fish sitting on top of fries, a side of cole slaw, and tartar sauce. The fish was moist and fresh. The fries had good crisp, but were overly seasoned with pepper and salt. The cole slaw was not to my liking -- very tart compared to most other slaws I've had. I like my slaw with a bit of sweetness, but that's just my preference.
We were really looking forward to liking this place because it is so close to home. Actually, we were planning to bring a large group of visitors here next weekend to dine here rather than cooking at our house, but I'm glad we decided to try it out tonight first. With all the service issues we experienced and not being too impressed with the food for the price being charged, I don't think we will be going back any time soon.