Months (literally, months!) before my sister stepped foot in the city, I was already plotting where we’d be eating. With such a surfeit of dining options, I had to be strategic. God forbid we have a bad meal — it’s nearly a crime in San Francisco! I thought long and hard before realizing a shocking omission in our eating adventures. N had never had cioppino before — definitely a crime in San Francisco.
According to a very credible source, this stone soup of seafood originated in the North Beach of the late 1800s. Cioppino is clearly the product of very resourceful Italian immigrant fishmongers; the catches of the day (including crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels and fish) are thrown into a pot with fresh tomatoes, herbs and wine and cooked until absolutely divine. While clam chowder served in sourdough bread bowls might get all the tourists’ attention nowadays, cioppino is the real deal when it comes to San Francisco’s food history.
Many a San Francisco stronghold serves cioppino, including Sotto Mare and their excellent spin. We were exploring Japantown, however, so we made a beeline for the popular Woodhouse Fish Company. Be warned: the restaurant requires patience as turnover is nice and slow (we waited about an hour for a four-top) — but that patience pays off.
Woodhouse Fish Company’s space encourages leisurely, intimate dinners — not fun if you’re waiting, but great once you get seated. After an hour wait for a four-top, our server kindly took our order and the food came out not long after. N and D thoroughly enjoyed their starter of fresh and premium raw oysters, though I opted out. I was more excited about our Woodhouse’s popular split-top Maine lobster roll, which came with french fries and slaw. I was dying to try this New England specialty, as the lobster roll hasn’t often made a successful leap to the West Coast. Huge chunks of luscious lobster were sparingly dressed with tangy sauce and stuffed into a buttered white sandwich roll. More meat, less bread, I say, but I’d probably think that of any sandwich. Bottom line: delicious.
D ordered the steamed shellfish appetizer with a 50/50 split between PEI mussels and littleneck clams. It came with two hefty slabs of cheesy garlic bread, perfect for sopping up the garlicky, buttery sauce. N and I, having shared a small lobster roll, moved onto our stunner of a cioppino plate, piled high with crushed tomatoes, garlic bread, and every type of seafood imaginable. We three dug in mindlessly and enthusiastically. Crab claws were cracked, shrimp were peeled, shellfish was slurped. At the end of it all, we had bowls full of empty exoskeletons and bellies full of goodness.
Woodhouse Fish Company
1914 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA