It was intended to be just an afternoon excursion–a drive from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, Calif., for lunch at Sam’s Chowder House. Lunch was exceptional–the rare combination of great food and atmosphere that causes dreams of a return trip even before the meal is over. More about that later.
The 30-mile drive took me away from the picturesque but crammed-with-houses hills of San Francisco. Less than 15 minutes after leaving the city, I was headed over spectacular scenery, mountainous terrain on my left and the Pacific Ocean on my right. At one beach, dozens of surfers–including one woman surfing while wearing a bright blue sun hat–were riding the waves. On hillsides signs warned of rock slides and that hiking and rock climbing were not permitted. The air was refreshingly clean and around every turn the scenery was dramatic.
But it wasn’t just the mountains and sea that left me in awe, it was also the abundance of stunning flora that seemed to be everywhere–along the roadside, in the dunes, across a beach walkway. I was astounded by vibrant hot-color flowers, unusual cacti and other plants that were unlike anything I was used to in Georgia.
I kept pulling the car over at practically every overlook and beach access road I came to, intoxicated by the crisp sea air, the fragrant natural smells and the views. And after a stop in quaint downtown Half Moon Bay to check out boutiques, bakeries and antique shops, I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t planned to stay in this wonderful suburb of San Fran.
Oh well, at least I had this one afternoon and lunch at Sam’s Chowder House.
Located at 4210 N. Cabrillo Highway in Half Moon Bay, Sam’s is the kind of just-off-the-roadway restaurant where one can show up in jeans and a T-shirt for a low-key dining experience with great food and great ambiance. It’s an expansive restaurant with an ocean view from just about every table in the house as well as patio dining, and guests can linger outdoors over drinks and food near heat lamps and a fire pit when the weather’s cool.
However, as enthralling as the environment is, make no mistake that it’s the food that really shines here. According to the restaurant’s Web site, the mantra of Chef Lewis Rossman, who’s also a partner, is “sustainable, fresh, local when possible and always seasonal.”
In fact, the restaurant was chosen by San Francisco Gate’s as best waterfront dining in the Bay Area and Food Editor magazine selected Sam’s Lobster Roll as one of the best sandwiches in America.
And I give the sandwich two thumbs up for its abundance of fresh ,sweet lobster nestled in a buttered and toasted roll. At my server’s suggestion, I tried a fish that I hadn’t previously heard of–escolar, and I wasn’t disappointed. The fish itself was mild and juicy and it came with a flavorful mole with a sprinkling of peas that tasted garden-fresh–slightly sweet and crisp.
The menu also features salmon burgers, cioppini, oyster stew, Dungeness crab, seafood spaghetti, grilled Australian swordfish, coffee-rubbed braised pork short ribs, hangar steak and more.
Whenever I return to San Francisco, Sam’s Chowder House, the escolar and a day or two in Half Moon Bay will be top priorities.
For more information, visit www.samschowderhouse.com or call (650) 712-0371.