Scoma’s Restaurant: Fish Fresh From the Boat
It doesn’t get fresher than this. Scoma’s Restaurant on Pier 47 in San Francisco holds a licensed fish preparation station five feet away from its kitchen door. It also has its own fishing boat, which has brought in salmon, crab, and clam since 1965.
A modest-looking facility under a red-and-yellow neon sign at the end of the pier beacons San Franciscans and the international clientele from near and far into its spacious dining rooms where the seafood-centric festivities never stop.
Scoma’s classics include sautéed shrimp, scallop, mixed shellfish, and—when in season—local crab. Cracked Dungeness crab can be served half or whole, and “lazy man’s” cioppino with crab legs is one of the restaurant’s staples.
Scoma’s award‐winning international wine list embraces all viticultural regions of the world—from Toscana and Piemonte to Napa and Sonoma, and from Rioja and Mosel to up-and-coming appellations in South Africa, New Zealand, and Argentina.
Family-owned and -operated for nearly half a century, the restaurant started when two brothers, Al and Joe Scoma, decided to turn a small coffee shop on the wharf into a catch-of-the-day eatery more appropriate for the location. With time and hard work, a local hangout turned into a landmark restaurant—one of the top five seafood places in California, serving 450,000 patrons a year.
Located on the historic Fisherman’s Wharf, Scoma’s is as famous for its San Francisco Bay views as it is for its tender Dungeness crab cakes and crispy shrimp torpedoes. Add to it complimentary valet parking right on the pier, and we have a winner!
Speaking of crab cakes and shrimp torpedoes, both are the favorites of Scoma’s bar menu, served during weekday happy hour for a rather outdated and very pleasing price of $5. The former comes with a lemon wedge and smoked paprika aioli on a bed of Caesar relish. The latter—wrapped in rice paper, crisp-fried, and garnished with cucumber, bell pepper, and red onion salad with champagne vinaigrette.
Another staple of the bar menu is a Sonoma lamb “T-bone” with caramelized onions and chimichurri sauce over creamy polenta. None of these happy delights belong to the main dining room, but they are wholeheartedly offered to hungry patrons who are waiting at the bar to be seated.
In fact, the 350-seat restaurant only recently started accepting reservations; 80 percent of its diners still walk in, knowing their favorite place will always accommodate them.
On the night we dined, sous chef Jon E. Greene was in charge of the kitchen, putting up recipes created by the senior executive chef Alan Fairhurst. Our mixed seafood grill, accompanied on the menu with a note prompting diners to “ask your server for today’s selection,” yielded fresh, perfectly grilled salmon, swordfish, and halibut, nicely garnished with some shrimp, mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables, and two sauces—a feast fit for a king!
In the dessert department, the restaurant has its own take on a traditional Italian tiramisu, served in a cappuccino cup with a chocolate spoon.
Good food and wine have an ability to make people more open and friendly, and it is no coincidence we made fast friends with a couple of couples who were occupying tables next to ours. Born and raised in San Francisco, some Scoma’s patrons come back even if they now live in far-away places, and those who moved to the city recently come to engage with the city’s live history.
Outside the restaurant, while we were waiting for our car to be delivered by a valet, we admired a festive mosaic depicting San Francisco landmarks, hung over a fish station door. The plaque said the mosaic was created by John O’Shanna under the influence of Benny Bufano, a famous Californian Italian-American sculptor, a personal friend of Al Scoma, and a fan of Scoma’s Restaurant.
Right in front of us busy boats were gearing up for the night fishing, one of them probably Scoma’s.
Scoma’s Restaurant is located at Pier 47 at 1 Al Scoma Way in San Francisco, California. Call (415) 771-4383 for reservations.