Soothing and delicious is clam chowder on a cold winter day. We can see the savory steam rising from a bowl right now.
Whether it is by the fireplace or if you live in San Francisco, at a side walk café by the bay, clam chowder makes for a perfect appetizer or meal.
The city by the bay is well-known for having glorious varieties of chowder.
In addition to clams, common ingredients include diced potatoes, onions, and celery.
You probably have your variations or favorites as well. Perhaps your grandmother did.
Very warm memories.
Other vegetables are not typically used, but small carrot strips or a garnish of parsley might occasionally be added primarily for color. A garnish of bay leaves adds both color and flavor. It is believed that clams were used in chowder because of the relative ease of harvesting them.
Clam chowder is usually served with saltine crackers or small, hexagonal oyster crackers.
This subline dish originated in the Eastern United States, but is now commonly served in restaurants throughout the country, particularly on Fridays when American Catholics traditionally abstained from meat. Many regional variations exist, but the two most prevalent are New England or "white" clam chowder and Rhode Island / Manhattan or "red" clam chowder.
The earliest-established and most popular variety of clam chowder, New England clam chowder, was introduced to the region by French, Nova Scotian, or British settlers, becoming common in the 18th century.
San Francisco is clam chowder paradise.
At neighborhoods.com they take a sip and smile, “No trip to San Francisco is complete without a taste of the city’s signature clam chowder. It’s creamy, it’s salty, it’s filled with fresh seafood—what’s not to love? Clam chowder is such a staple of San Francisco cuisine that a ton of places serve up bowls of the seafood soup.”
How true that is.
The informative culinary team at bonappetit.com adds, “There’s never not a line at this no-frills raw bar in Nob Hill. But it’s worth the hang time to get super-fresh seafood in this authentic, untouched lunch counter where the décor consists of sports memorabilia, seafood posters, and a hand-painted menu tacked to the wall. The window case is filled with lobsters, crab claws, shrimp of all sizes, clams, squid, smoked salmon, and more, to be served as cocktails, salads, or straight up.”
One such establishment that does stand out and has for years is Swan Oyster Depot.
Swan Oyster Depot is a seafood eatery and cultural landmark located in the Polk Gulch neighborhood of San Francisco, California. It opened there in 1903 and except for a brief hiatus and rebuilding period following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it has been running continuously in the same venue since that time.
That is remarkable.
Swan Oyster Depot first opened its doors in San Francisco in the early 1890's as the Cable Oyster Depot.
This makes it one of the longest continuous businesses and dining establishments in the United States. Surviving all types of economic upheavals, that is a mind warming exceptional accomplishment.
When something is already close to perfection, there is little need for change. Swan's menu has remained largely unchanged throughout its history, and it has had exactly the same 18 wooden stools and marble counter that were installed for the post-earthquake reopening in 1912.
The team of brothers behind the counter in the early days and now the Sancimino extended family is reportedly a big part of the restaurant’s attraction because of their extensive knowledge of seafood.
From the Swan beginning in the early 1900s, a regular following of locals has come either to eat or to pick up seafood to go. There are families that have come for six generations and the Swan crew knows the majority of customers by their first name.
Celebrity chef, author, and television host Anthony Bourdain was a Swan Oyster Depot regular for decades, paying his first visit to Swan Oyster Depot long before he had gained celebrity status.
Mr. Bourdain described his relationship with Swan as "true love" and frequently made the restaurant a priority stop, alone or with a camera crew.
After Mr. Bourdain's segment of his television show The Layover was taped in San Francisco at Swan Oyster Depot and aired on October 15, 2012, it immensely increased the popularity of the restaurant.
On the day of Anthony Bourdain's death, June 8, 2018, hundreds of people came to Swan Oyster Depot to pay their respects to the global star and remember him at the place he came so often in San Francisco.
Other luminaries love Swan Oyster Depot too.
The eatery has been the focus of international travel writers and food critics for many years. One writer called it a "tiny temple dedicated to the glories of fruta di mare."
Celebrities have been regularly sighted at Swan Oyster Depot over the years. Bing Crosby, Margaret Thatcher, Francis Ford Coppola, Madeline Kahn, Michael Mina, Claudette Colbert, Julia Child, Nicolas Cage, Éric Ripert, Traci Des Jardins, Bono, to name but a few. James Beard, the famed cook, author, and champion of American cuisine, was a regular as well.
Here is what the man on the street is saying about this landmark clam chowder house:
"Seafood heaven! This place is amazing! My boyfriend and I shared a combo salad that had crab, prawns, and shrimp on a bed of lettuce with a Louis dressing. This was very delicious and can be very filling! We also had the assortment of dozen oysters. There were all delicious as well. They also gave us complimentary bread as we sat down. "
"Hill, Swan Oyster Depot is larger than life and arguably, the best seafood restaurant in San Francisco. For locals, this is an institution that epitomizes the best of San Francisco. For tourists, it's a required visit as part of one's itinerary. "
"Swan Oyster Depot is a GEM! I would be there every day if I could. I just cannot believe this was my first time there.... I will be back! I had the pleasure to visit this awesome place with my brother and his GF and yes, we had to wait line ... which was expected... with only counter dining... it was ALL worth it...”
See what we mean?
So if you are feeling a little chilly and need something soothing and sometimes a little spicy to warm you up, there is no better perfect solution than clam chowder.
Especially if you are visiting San Francisco.
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