Restaurants & Bars

San Francisco Bay Area

Scoma’s – Cioppino & clam chowder


More from Restaurants & Bars

Restaurants & Bars San Francisco Bay Area

Scoma’s – Cioppino & clam chowder

Krys | | Feb 27, 2005 12:55 AM

A menu with over 90 dishes is handed to you by a waiter formally dressed in a white jacket and black pants. The wine list has over a dozen California wines available by the glass and as many half bottles. It is a nice selection of local wines with a few selections from other countries.

A half loaf of thick-sliced Parisian sourdough, nestled in a napkin covered basket, arrives immediately at the table. In addition to the dish of butter, each table has a bottle of hearty, robust, golden olive oil. It is in an attractive tall bottle with the Scoma’s logo.

There are no specials, but the waiter points out which fish was freshly caught that day by Scoma’s fishing fleet. There is Fish Receiving Station building on the dock next to the restaurant where you can watch the fresh fish being loaded off the boats.

Scoma’s website (link below) quotes a January 10, 2005 Newsweek article which lists the clam chowder as one of the four best in the country calling it a “rich, creamy clam chowder infused with leeks, celery, garlic and thyme.”

I think that the word ‘infused’ was key, as there is no actual evidence those ingredients. While the chopped clams were fresh, or a very good canned variety, I would not have chosen this chowder as one of the top four in the Bay Area, let alone the entire country.

The only spice evident was salt and there was an equal mix of clams to potato. The broth was thickened, probably with flour. The top was sprinkled with chopped parsley. It was pleasant chowder, but not one that I would seek out. I had a glass of Domaine Chandon’s chardonnay. Like everything at Scoma’s the pour was extremely generous.

Scoma’s has three versions of cioppino:
- Traditional
- Crab Cioppino: A whole cracked crab in house made sauce
- Lazy Man's Cioppino without shells

I chose the traditional cioppino, a thick marinara sauce version filled with plump juicy scallops, sweet chunks of crab legs and body, slightly over cooked fish, 3 clams in shell, tiny bay shrimp, and medium sized excellent shrimp with tails. A thick slice of toasted buttered sourdough came with the soup as well as a wedge of lemon.

I declined a paper bib when offered. I thoroughly enjoyed the cioppino. The seafood was super fresh. The house made cioppino sauce used excellent quality tomatoes and was very good, but very filling.

I noticed huge platters of food passing by and at first assumed that they were party platters being shared by a large group. In fact, they were individual dishes. Scoma’s portions are huge. If you are not a big eater, you might consider sharing an entrée.

After the dishes were removed, I was brought a plate with a warm wet napkin and a slice of lemon. Cioppino can be a bit messy and this was a lovely way to refresh your hands.

I am not sure how people have room for the desserts like the house made tiramisu, crème carmel or cheesecake. There is also a nice selection of after dinner cordials, ports, cognacs and single malt scotches.

I chose ice cream and an unlikely combination of spumoni and blackberry zinfandel sorbet. I really wanted to try the spumoni, but the sorbet sounded good. Another generous dish was presented with a sprig of fresh mint and a really excellent cookie. It was a flakey cookie decorated beautifully with triangular thin almond pieces.

The spumoni was average. The sorbet was refreshing and tangy with a suggestion of blackberry. The waiter made sure the kitchen arranged the ice creams on the dish so the flavors would not mix. I think the blackberry zinfandel/vanilla bean combination the waiter suggested would have been excellent.

I never linger at restaurants. I usually ask for my check with dessert so I can leave as soon as I finish. Yet I wanted to linger at Scoma’s. I ordered a decaf cappuccino which was topped with excellent foam and sprinkled with chocolate. Two ice blue hard mint candies come with the check.

The clubby room reminded me more of a New York or Chicago restaurant. I gazed out at the lights of Ghirardelli Square and looked at the boats just outside the window. Tables are close together, but the room was filled with happy diners and the atmosphere was convivial. On the pier, horse drawn carriages passed by.

The service was professional and prompt. The wait staff is attuned to making visitors feel welcome and tries to ensure that customers have the enjoyable evening they were expecting in San Francisco.

Scoma’s is off the main street and on a pier. There is free parking and it is probably one of the easiest restaurants on the pier to get to if you have problems with mobility. You drive right to the door and a valet immediately parks your car.

It seems if you have a wheelchair, you might be in an area that doesn’t have the best view. There are a few steps into many of the dining rooms.

A long intimate bar and a separate cocktail area are at the front of the restaurant.

There is a prix fix menu and on the day that I dined at Scoma’s it was a crab risotto with five mushroom ragout and sweet peas.

Scoma’s doesn’t take reservations. It is a first come, first served policy. The wait is not long and you are not rushed from your table. Many people waited outside on the pier, gazing at the golden gate bridge and watching the boats glide by.

The website says “In 1965, brothers Al and Joseph Scoma took over a six-table coffee shop for fishermen on the pier, and, over time, built the restaurant into its current 360-seat operation.”

Steven Scarabosio, who took over as Executive Chef in 2002, has more than 20 years experience at Scoma’s, working in almost every position in the kitchen during that time.

I had a lovely evening and enjoyed the food. It was the first time that I didn’t feel cheated by a restaurant in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. My tab for chowder, cioppino, dessert, cappuccino and two glasses of wine was fifty three dollars. Parking, as I said, was free.

Is there better food in San Francisco? Yes. However, I thought the simple presentation and fresh ingredients were very enjoyable and satisfying. I probably will go back to try the fresh fish. If the fish is as good as the cioppino, there may finally have a restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf I can recommend to visitors.

Next week I plan to try the cioppino at Tadichs which will give me a good basis to evaluate Scoma's.