The Old Clam House is indeed old – in fact, it is the City’s oldest restaurant continuously operating in one location since 1861. (Tadich Grill is the oldest restaurant, opening in 1849, but it has changed locations over the years.)
The successful restaurant group behind popular spots like The Stinking Rose and Bobo’s purchased The Old Clam House when it went on the market several months ago. Owner Jerry Dal Bozzo, a self-made success story who was born and raised in North Beach, has a fondness for historic properties. He was responsible for the 1973 reopening of the Cliff House, and he is a restaurant visionary – his renovation of another historic eatery, The Franciscan on the Wharf, is spectacular.
Dal Bozzo has freshened up the Old Clam House and will soon open a glassed-in patio along the right side of the building. Executive chef Andrea Froncillo and Dal Bozzo have updated (and lightened) the menu without straying from the original concept. Every visit starts with a demitasse of flavorful clam broth and fresh Acme bread for dipping. Brunch, with a menu featuring crab and smoked salmon Benedict, rib-eye steak and eggs, and omelets, is served weekends and holidays. Gone is the heavy (no pun intended) emphasis on fried foods, replaced with some classics from Dal Bozzo and Froncillo like iron-skillet-roasted mussels, crab and shrimp; whole Dungeness crab in secret garlic sauce; and USDA prime cuts of prime rib (three sizes plus a surf and turf with crab).
The clam chowder doesn’t rely on flour but is thickened with potatoes (the method my mom used) and is chock-full of fresh, briny clams. Your choice of sand dabs, basa, salmon, shrimp, or chicken can be prepared five ways: lemon butter caper sauce; spicy cioppino sauce with olives; toy box tomatoes, arugula, pangrattato (fine bread crumbs) and olives; seaweed soy ginger glaze; or spicy red-pepper-onion-bacon sauce. I’m a sucker for sand dabs, but the basa (a sustainable, mild, flaky white fish) is also good. The best specialty in my book is the clams paella acini (tiny rice-shaped pasta) in a tangy cioppino sauce with sausage, olives, and, of course, a generous portion of tender, juicy clams. A bit of raw milk white cheddar adds creaminess, and although my Sicilian grandfather was a stickler for not adding cheese to seafood dishes, it really works here.
While I enjoyed everything I tried at the Old Clam House, my favorite was the clams escargot, a clever play on the French classic that substitutes clams for snails. While I’m not the biggest snail fan, I love the Bourguignon preparation – how can you go wrong with pools of garlicky butter? And clams are in my top 10 beloved ingredients, so this is a dish I’ll be dreaming about until the next time I get to the Old Clam House.
The Old Clam House: Monday–Sunday 11 a.m.–11 p.m.; brunch Saturday, Sunday and holidays 11 a.m.–3 p.m. 299 Bayshore Boulevard (at Oakdale), 415-826-4880, www.theoldclamhousesf.com
– S. Reynolds