Fishing Again

Charmed by a thoughtful neighborhood restaurant celebrating seafood and spirits

I'm happy to be back at Café Maritime, contemplating another Brandy Crusta (Sura gets an apple martini with a dot of purple Chambord at its base, an extra treat added by the thoughtful bartender/server when Sura says she'd like a drink on the sweet side), but I'm slightly miffed that the menu is completely unchanged. Soft-shell crabs are again unavailable (no explanation offered this time), and the only two entrees I haven't already tried are the shrimp linguine -- the last ingredient in its description, "roasted tomatoes, garlic, basil, & orange," adds a bit of a fillip, but not enough to entice us -- and the hanger steak, which I figure is only there for the seafood-haters. (My father, not a hater but not much of an enthusiast, would be pretty much out of luck: Everything else on the menu is fishy. Even the spring vegetable salad comes with lobster salad toast.) We decide to concentrate on the starters.

And we start splendidly with the smaller of the two seafood platters. We get nine oysters (three each of the three varieties on offer: Hog Island, Malpeque, and Kumamoto); three littleneck clams; three mussels; two jumbo heads-on prawns in the shell; and a chilled half lobster (instead, we're told, of the usual Dungeness crab, which the kitchen is out of). The icy seaweed-draped platter comes with little cups of cocktail sauce, a very good shallot vinaigrette, and lots of lemon wedges. The shellfish is fresh and briny, just what it should be. (My only quibble: The three types of oysters, among my favorites, are similar, small and easily downed; a bigger, more assertive variety would've been a welcome contrast.) We have an excellent time, cracking and dipping and slurping.

Then come three more starters: creamy New England seafood chowder, freighted with chunks of potato and many cubes of good, smoky bacon as well as salmon, tiny shrimp, and clams; three lightly grilled sea scallops atop white beans, ringed with tomatillo salsa verde, contrasting in color as well as flavor; and a big bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels, steamed in Anchor Steam beer and helped along with bits of linguiça, garlic, tomatoes, and shredded arugula, and further encouraged by a glass of Alsatian pinot gris I choose from Café Maritime's compact (15 whites, 15 reds and rosés, three "bubbles") but well-selected wine list. We eavesdrop on one of the owners, chatting with a young family from the neighborhood whose two tots enjoyed pasta with butter made specially for them while their parents raved about their mussels and halibut; he's recommending other favorite local restaurants, including A16 and Emporio Rulli.

Fresh Catch: Café Maritime reminds us of 
our dream of a little fish place on the French 
coast.
Anthony Pidgeon
Fresh Catch: Café Maritime reminds us of our dream of a little fish place on the French coast.

Location Info

Map

Cafe Maritime

2417 Lombard
San Francisco, CA 94123

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Marina/ Cow Hollow

Details

Seafood chowder $5.50

Stuffed squid $8.50

Crab cakes $11.50

Seafood platter $35/$60

Halibut with garlic sauce $16

Grilled salmon $14.50

Panna cotta $5.50

885-2530

Open nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Reservations accepted

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: moderately difficult

Muni: 30

Noise level: moderate

2417 Lombard (at Scott)

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The dessert list offers the same four options as before: I forgo another perfect panna cotta to try the chocolate brownie, an unusually light version like a flourless chocolate cake, with butterscotch sauce and a ball of coffee ice cream that Sura finishes for me, despite her pleasure with her own peach crisp. The dessert list is loaded with other after-dinner temptations, however: ports and dessert wines, cognacs, single malts, grappas, and alcohol-and-whipped-cream-enhanced coffee drinks. (I've since managed to unearth a couple more Café Maritime menus, which bear few changes. On the dinner one, the only difference is a substitute of sardines for the scallops in the starter, with the same accompaniments of white beans and salsa verde. But I'm intrigued by the dessert offerings of coconut cream pie, a hot fudge sundae, and a root beer float -- the sorts of things we'd seen in the Thiebaud paintings. There's even a blue-plate special offered among Café Maritime's bargain-priced offerings for its "Industry Hour" from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., which, we note, is two hours and not designed to encourage much industry the day after.)

When we leave, we overhear the owner say he's waiting for Michael Bauer to come in. "I just want him to taste my food!" he says fiercely. We hope he enjoys his dinner as much as we did ours.

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