Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Oct 30, 2006 07:23 AM

Sam's Chowder House, Half Moon Bay

Two of us went to try the new Sam's Chowder House on Hwy 1 in Half Moon Bay. At 6:30pm on Sunday, this place was doing quite well with the house being about 90% full. But if our experience was typical, they have a lot to work on if they want to keep that level of business going.

When we arrived, we were assigned our table, and when we were led to it, our hostess found that it had not been cleaned. We were sent back to the front to wait a few minutes and then we were led back to the same table. Bread/butter and water came quickly, but it took about 15 minutes before our waitress came by to ask if we wanted any drinks to start. Rather than risk another long wait, we chose to order the food immediately.

We ordered the fried calamari appetizer to share, and the Pacific oyster stew and Alaskan halibut fish & chips for the main meals. The main dishes arrived about 15 minutes later. The only problem was we hadn't yet been served the appetizer. The waiter went back to the kitchen to figure out where it was. Meanwhile, we notice that he didn't provide a spoon for the oyster stew, so weren't able to begin our meal until we can flag someone down, which turned out to be our original waitress. A few minutes later, the fried calamari appetizer is brought to our table. However, no apologies, no explanation. But after he dashes away, we realize that he forgot to bring the sauces that accompany the fried calamari. Another few minutes to catch the attention of our waitress to have her bring the sauces. All of these minor missteps seemed to be par for the course there tonight, as we observed tables near us having to call wait staff for one thing or another that needed additional attention.

The place was busy, but ironically, we felt that the establishment seemed over-staffed. There were lots of bodies with black Sam's Chowder House logo t-shirts walking around, sometimes chatting with one another, but generally not being too productive or being attentive. I would attribute most of the missteps we observed to lack of experience and training on the part of the staff, and loose management.

The fried calamari appetizer was OK, but the calamari pieces were very small and the fried batter didn't hold on. The sauces were fairly ordinary -- tomato-based cocktail sauce and tartar sauce -- might be commercial sauces out of a jar. The oyster stew was very rich, heavy on cream, but the flavoring lacked complexity. The portion was fairly small--a shallow rim-soup dish with about 4 oysters--for $12. This was supposed to be like the oyster pan roast from NYC's Grand Central Oyster Bar, but it didn't cut it -- we've had better pan roasts in Las Vegas oyster bars. The Alaskan halibut fish & chips were a little better value at $16. It came with 2 small pieces of beer battered fish sitting on top of fries, a side of cole slaw, and tartar sauce. The fish was moist and fresh. The fries had good crisp, but were overly seasoned with pepper and salt. The cole slaw was not to my liking -- very tart compared to most other slaws I've had. I like my slaw with a bit of sweetness, but that's just my preference.

We were really looking forward to liking this place because it is so close to home. Actually, we were planning to bring a large group of visitors here next weekend to dine here rather than cooking at our house, but I'm glad we decided to try it out tonight first. With all the service issues we experienced and not being too impressed with the food for the price being charged, I don't think we will be going back any time soon.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. This was similar to our experience.
    As well as our service issues, the table behind ours waited a very long time for their sangria and was told, when they asked their waitperson, that it was due to "trying to make it perfect". We all thought this to be a strange answer. The same table was also overcharged for their meal.
    The food quality does not offset the service issues.

    1. Same here - lengthy wait, average food, prices slightly higher (15-20%) than in comparable places... And yes, I had the impression that they were overstaffed but extremely poorly coordinated (three different waiters showed up at our table to take our drink order. The location is so nice that we will most likely go back for drinks and appetizers during sunset - but I won't go back for dinner any time soon.

      1. My wife and I went on opening night (Oct. 20th) and really enjoyed the beautiful location, good food and very friendly service. Yes, they still have a lot of work to do to get their service up to speed, but let's be reasonable here. This is Sam's Chowder House in Half Moon Bay, not Aqua. They've been open for two weeks. They have a staff largely made up of local high school kids who are learning on the job. They're clearly overwhelmed at this point, but they also seemed enthusiastic and eager to improve things. Give them some time. This is a great addition the Coastside. Go early to enjoy cocktails on the back deck at sunset. The New England chowder is delicious, and so is the Ahi Poke. We also tried the trio of oyster shooters and enjoyed two out of three of them (Citrus shooter was way too sweet). There's a generous portion of lobster in the lobster roll. The Seared Yellow Fin with aged balsamic was enjoyable and well complemented by the yummy potato leek hash. Don't expect perfection from the staff, but give them a little credit for the effort they're making to get this place on track. Welcome to the Coast, Sam's!

        1 Reply
        1. re: GenghisJohn

          My wife and I had lunch at Sam's on Nov 2 and our experience was much like, maybe worse than, the first two posters.

          First, we called asking directions to Sam's from the Ritz Carlton and were told "just turn left on US1 and we're right there." Uh, you're almost 7 miles north of there.

          Second, upon asking if there was a "Sam," the hostess shrugged and said "I don't think so." We then asked what "OEC(?) AUX" stamped on the back of the chairs meant -- similar shrug and blank look. No effort to find out an answer to either -- trivial, maybe, but indicative.

          The menu is very limited for lunch; we could only find three non-fried main courses (salmon, cod, and halibut). However, they have a good beer/ wine selection and good bread.

          Beers and bread came promptly enough.

          Next, our waitress did not know the portion size difference between the appetizer fried calamari and the lunch calamari. She came back to say "both are the same," the lunch comes with french fries, etc.

          We ordered 3 items: appetizer calamari, roasted pumpkin side, fish sandwich, and 2 beers.

          Food took 20+ minutes to arrive after order. Not good.

          We asked that all three items come at once. The first two came together, the fish sandwich.. well, more below.

          The calamari were fried but dead cold. We asked for a replacement and it came warm (hardly just out of the oil). The calamari were small, did not appear fresh (i.e., seemed to be from frozen stock) and the batter was among the worst I've ever had: doughy and tasteless. The two sauce sides were totally commercial. A place like this has to offer small touches that suggest there's someone who cares behind the food. Everything about this place says the opposite.

          The roasted pumpkin was tasty -- roasted with garlic.

          The fish sandwich was OK, although it arrived 5 minutes after the second order of calamari arrived and only after we flagged the waitress down to address the issue. I suspect it had been sitting on the pick up counter for quite a while. The french fries definitely 2nd rate or worse.

          "Our" bill was delivered to the wrong table. When we got it, it was not our bill, but I was in no mood to go through more hassle, so I paid it (turned about to be a few dollars less than we should have paid, but I wasn't counting, until later).

          A fellow, who appeared to be the manager, stood around reviewing paperwork and not doing much to help what appeared to be an overwhelmed operation. We could overhear at least two other tables with various food/ service problems.

          Sam's does have a great location and the re-modeling is attractive, but someone had better get a handle on the food and service quality. I'd be willing to go back in ~30 days just "to see," but my gut tells me (sorry!) that the problems start at the top here and fixing that often requires more than effort and training.

        2. We just had lunch at Sam's. The bread and roasted pumpkin (that I subbed for fries with my fish and chips order) were good. The two pieces of fish were very greasy and dark from being fried too long. On the good side I didn't have to eat much of it bacause the serving was small (3 inches x 1.5 inch each piece)--about the same or less than the senior fish and chips at another nearby fish house that charges half the price. The cole slaw was mushy, not crisp, and the dressing was sour and runny. The clam chowder had very little evidence of clam, but a lot of bacon flavor, a few potato cubes and was thin and watery. The lobster roll was would rate as mediocre, but at the price should have been really good. We live walking distance away from the restaurant but won't walk that way again unless we start hearing from others that the food has improved. There are at least four excellent restaurants down in Half Moon Bay harbor area that are far better than this place and less expensive.

          1 Reply
          1. re: fishwife

            >There are at least four excellent restaurants down in Half Moon Bay harbor area that are far better than this place and less expensive.<

            Don't keep us waiting :-)

          2. Oh, I guess I forgot to list the better ones. All these have excellent food and service and I think all are less expensive than Sam's. In order of my preference with some special thing they have: Mezza Luna--our favorite, never one bad meal, good pizza in addition to excellent pasta and other fish and meat entrees; HMB Brewing Company--has music in the bar, gourmet beer, outside heated eating area; Princeton Sea Food--the best clam chowder of the bunch to go with other good fish entrees; Barbara's Fish Trap--senior and kid servings of their excellent food at half the price. Warning: these all get lots of business on weekends and for Barbara's and the Brewing company there is usually a long wait for the table then.

            2 Replies
            1. re: fishwife

              Thanks. I don't get down there very often but still miss the old Princeton Inn, now Mezza Luna which I've never tried. Looks like I'll have to go there.

              Barbara's Fish Trap is a place I take visitors to, not so much for "great" food which I don't think they have but for the "shack on the water" ambience and good fried fish things.

              Is Princeton Sea Food in the "other" part of Princeton, the part by the boat docks?

              1. re: Mick Ruthven

                Yes. Princeton Sea Food is down by the boat docks. Ketch Joanne is next door and has so so food, but good Manhattan clam chowder, open for breakfast, and local colorful characters. I agree Barbara's food is not "great" (as is Mezza Luna), but compared to Sam's, it's much better both for quality and price. There's really only so much you can do with your basic fried seafood meal, but if what you do is make it greasy, too heavily breaded, overcooked ...
                well..that's three strikes and you are out. Barbara's fried things are delicately done--mmm, that makes me think of the calamari and those wonderful spidery tentacles. Or clam strips. Yum. I think I'll take my honey to lunch today. He likes the Capistrano kitty corner from Mezza and next to Old Princeton Landing (blues jam on sunday nights). It's Mex-Fish. Somewhat overpriced I think, but lots of food. So now you have the full Princeton Review. Experiment and enjoy.