09 April 2007

Lunch & dinner on Fisherman’s Wharf – Fisherman’s Grotto and McCormick & Kuleto’s

My wife and I have been going to Fisherman’s Wharf for nearly 33 years. We spent our honeymoon in San Francisco and enjoyed a romantic dinner at one of the Wharf restaurants with a view of the fishing boats docked a few feet away. When we lived in San Francisco for a year, the Wharf is where we went for special occasions. On our many return trips to the City, we always make our way down to the Wharf for some shopping, for the view, for the funky mix of people, and always, for the food.

When you read reviews of Wharf restaurants on-line, you’ll find quite a range of opinions. Some people, like us, love it, as much for the memories of past visits and maybe in spite of some of the present realities. Others will rant about a bad experience or dismiss it with a curt comment like “you can find better food elsewhere.”

I actually don’t disagree with that observation. Many of the swank, classy, celebrity chef restaurants in San Francisco will astound you with their creative food and delightful presentation. And you can be disappointed on the Wharf. But if you want fresh fish, nicely prepared, and you’re willing to pay a small premium for the view, I still recommend it.

On our trip in March, we had two meals on the Wharf. We started with lunch at Fisherman’s Grotto No. 9. This is the modest, romantic setting of one of our honeymoon meals. We don’t always eat here when we come to San Francisco, but it is a place we come back to regularly.

On this visit, my wife had a crab Louie salad. It was a simple pile of lettuce mounded with iced crab meat. Her preference is always to have the salad dressing on the side so that she can control how much is on the salad. In this case, that was a wise choice. If all of the dressing had been poured over the salad, it would have totally overwhelmed the crab and the greens. Following my own advice, I had the fresh catch of the day, broiled, served with small potatoes and steamed vegetables.

The history of Fisherman’s Grotto traces back to an Italian fisherman’s family. Our waiter was Italian all right, but he sounded like he was from New Jersey, not California. And our maitre d’ was Asian. No matter. We got what we came for – nostalgia and good seafood.

For dinner, we went to Ghirardelli Square, to McCormick & Kuleto’s. So I admit it, this is part of the McCormick & Schmick chain. And I know that means that it's basically the same as the McCormick you could eat at in Minneapolis.

But we really had a good meal. The restaurant overlooks San Francisco Bay. The view is outstanding. We had very good service. The fish was very tasty and prepared wonderfully. We were there on a Sunday night. It wasn't too busy, and we chatted up the server and the house manager. He gave us the recipe for the fish that my wife ordered. We promised to send him the recipe for the guacamole that was served in Senior Pico's a Mexican restaurant that occupied the same space 30 years ago when we lived there.

My wife had salmon stuffed with crab and shrimp. As I noted above, she liked it so much that she asked for the recipe. (I don’t know if we’ll ever make it.) On the menu, my fish was called ‘bluenose.’ It was prepared with sauted peppers, tomatoes, and celery. Turns out, bluenose is the same as wahoo or ono. I had ono at the wharf restaurant we ate at in Los Angeles in January.

I have a theory about Fisherman’s Wharf. When we first went there on our honeymoon, it was a fun, eclectic blend of people – tourists to be sure, but locals, artists, street artists, musicians, the whole gamut. Then, for a while, it got out of balance and the tourist crowd dominated. When that happened, a lot of the stores started carrying cheap junk and I think many people quit coming to the Wharf during those years. Lately, what I’ve observed is that the real touristy stuff has moved a few blocks away to Pier 39. And the old, original Wharf is gradually making its way back. I think the restaurants are getting spiffed up a bit. After all, they’ve got to get people to walk a few blocks from Pier 39, so it has to be worthwhile.

We had a great day and two memorable meals. I call that a success.

No comments: