This was written in 2004 - oldie but a goodie.
The purpose of this document is to define the cuisine we serve. The audience for this definition is our chefs, our servers, and anyone who might take interest in the unique aspect of what we are doing.
Crab shack. Wharf food. Fish market. These terms apply to food establishments that most of us have visited, either currently or in our memories. The proximity to the ocean, hot chowders, cold days, or hot days and a cold beer… generally a pleasant memory for most of us. The informal nature of the business, the noise levels usually not found in other restaurants, and the setting - the ocean and the activity that surrounds it.
The first point we try to convey is the uniquely American nature of this style of food. The crab shack and the cuisine typically associated with it is truly a creation of the US. Think about it.
The next observation is in the regional nature of the food. Fish is perishable, and you will find most “shacks” tend to deal primarily with local fisherman and fish. The reasons are primarily economic, and there are obviously exceptions to the rule; the frozen New England surf clam resides in most chowders from coast to coast.
Next, note the casual nature of the food. How it’s served, it’s lack of white table linen or even cutlery. In other parts of the world, and for the sake of this discussion, it is “American Rustic”. Thinking of it in this context will greatly aid the final points of this paper. The true beauty of this style of cuisine comes from the very definition of what makes the US a marvelous place - a melting pot.
Please note: Fish & Chips, thought of as English, is actually the marriage of Jewish (fried fish) and Belgian/French (frites) cuisine. The English borrowed the two to create a dish for the lower class, and it caught on.
Cioppino, though invented in San Francisco, is a creation of the Italian immigrants who help shape the city over the last three centuries. It is most likely the regionally-altered Cuippin of northern Italy. Bouillabaisse, coastal French in origin, shares a similarity as a tomato based fish stew.
Chowder is French, a flour-butter-milk concoction that takes its name from the French word “Caudere”, meaning “cauldron”. Manhattan red chowder was a later variation of the Italians, substituting the tomato for the milk.
The fish taco, obviously Mexican. Ceviche, Peruvian.
The Louie Salad, though created in San Francisco, the product of a French immigrant.
You get the idea; as you look through our menu, we’ve added Spanish, Vietnamese - you name it. Truly a melting pot. Before you think, “so our food just a collection of other countries food?”, you need to understand the evolution of food, worldwide.
Italian food as we know it is a melting pot; pasta came from Asia. Corn & tomato came from North America, as late as the 17th century. French cuisine was forever changed when Italian royalty (DeMedici) married into French aristocracy, couldn’t stand the food and immediately brought her kitchen staff to France. In a very real sense, all cuisine across the world is in a constant state of evolution.
As new ingredients and cultures are discovered, inevitably they are integrated into portions of a countries cuisine, until they become an integral part. This food, our food, this native cuisine, is the same story. It is uniquely ours, and it stands on the shoulders of the cultures, foods and flavors that we have encountered.
And now the point.
We are coastal, American-rustic, regional cuisine. Thinly disguised as a crab shack, here are the subtle differences:
1). We buy the best possible seafood. We made the conscious decision to only use sustainable products, to do otherwise seems terribly foolish.
2). We buy local organic products, and stay within seasonal availability. This means a healthier product for the customer, superior flavors, and an ethical decision to support to local farmers who their backs to do the right thing. It also means that our food naturally follows a seasonal calendar. Our food changes with the daily, weekly and monthly availability of what we can buy.
3). We invent & reinvent. Our selection of fish is limited; this is the reality of an overfished ocean. The challenge before us is to create plates that delight the customer, through a wide range of techniques, style & flavors from around the world. Dressed as a crab shack, we present plates as good or better than any restaurant. Our plates contain research, time, passion and a respect for the origins of the plate itself. Where we can improve the original, or freshen it, we will. Where we can recreate the original using the very best local organic products, we will. Where we can invent something completely new, we do.
4). We are honest, to ourselves, and our customers. We don’t cut corners, and we don’t fib about what me make by hand, the quality of ingredients, or how fresh something is. We are proud to serve this food to our friends and family.
Guidelines & influences:
American seafood classics utilizing finest ingredients and techniques. International seafood classics, Asian & European. New seafood “classics”, borrowing from all cultures.
San Francisco Restaurants:
Swan Oyster Depot - Classic
The Old Clam House - Very old school
Tadich Grill - Atmosphere New York Restaurants
Pearl Oyster Bar (NYC) - refined, updated version of Swan’s, actually based upon Swan’s (update - closed 2022)