Best Cioppino - 2003
Esquire food critic Roy Andries de Groot called cioppino "the finest regional dish in America," and anyone who's tasted San Francisco's signature specialty would be hard pressed to disagree. It originated back in Gold Rush times when immigrant Italian fishermen cooked up this local version of the seafood stews they loved -- cacciucco, brodetto, ciupin (hence the name) -- retaining the Mediterranean's indispensable contributions of onion, garlic, saffron, tomato, olive oil, and wine. The best cioppino can be made in your own home from seafood, herbs, and vegetables selected that day at the farmers' market, but a few restaurants do a fine job of it as well. Rose Pistola's is exemplary. A big silver tureen is brought to your table overflowing with tender calamari, sweet mussels, flaky chunks of rock cod, and luscious Dungeness crab, none of it overcooked (the downfall of many a cioppino). Even more amazing, its buttery, peppery, marjoram-scented broth -- a light, lovely variation on the usual canned-tomato glop -- is as good as the seafood. With a beaker of Anchor Steam, a big platter of salad, and spears of grilled sourdough to sop up its garlicky essence, this here is the great San Francisco meal.