The Winter Blues Cure: Hot Clam Chowder and a Dozen Cold Oysters


I moved recently from my place in Bernal Heights to a house that sits right on the cusp of Noe Valley and the Castro. When we moved in, I asked the previous tenant, a flamboyant real estate broker, which neighborhood he described it as. He took a moment to look my husband up and down and said, "Well, I call it the Castro. But you—you're definitely going to call it Noe Valley."

The two neighborhoods might offer different stereotypes, but their food offerings are about equal. Neither are considered SF food meccas (although with Frances, the Castro's definitely coming up in the world).

But because of my walk to the Muni station, I've spent more time exploring the Castro than Noe since we moved in. Most recently, it was to walk down to Anchor Oyster Bar, a classic that I've never been to despite all my years writing about food in San Francisco.

Anchor has been around since 1977, the year Harvey Milk was made city supervisor. The year I was six. In my quest to try to keep up on the newest restaurants, it's a pleasure to slow down and be reminded of the city's history.

Clearly many people before me have discovered this for themselves, but Anchor is the coolest little spot—and I mean little—all mirrors and white tile and bar. There is no automatic dishwasher. It's a woman scrubbing pots and pans the old fashioned way, right behind the marble counter where you sit to eat.

I've been glumly fighting a cold like everyone in town but my spirits were lifted considerably when a plate of perfectly cold, briny Beau Soleil oysters were put in front of me, along with a Caesar salad made with warm, toasty croutons that were crisp on one side and soft on the other, all followed by a cup of chowder that—once dashed with a few healthy splashes of Tabasco—was made into something that I'm pretty sure healed something in me. My spirit if not my stuffy nose.

The solo guy next to me was painstakingly but merrily making his way through a massive plate of roasted Dungeness crab. He even asked me to help him roll up his sleeves which were inching their way back towards his messy hands. At a table, a foursome shared a massive bowl of cioppino. My husband and I toasted with a couple glasses of French rosé, the orange rosé that by the looks of it always makes me feel like I'm about to the ambrosia of the gods or something equally exotic. Full and happy, we walked back up the hill that's Castro Street to our new home with a new, but old, favorite restaurant. I love when that happens.

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