Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Feb 27, 2005 12:55 AM

Scoma’s – Cioppino & clam chowder

  • k

A menu with over 90 dishes is handed to you by a waiter formally dressed in a white jacket and black pants. The wine list has over a dozen California wines available by the glass and as many half bottles. It is a nice selection of local wines with a few selections from other countries.

A half loaf of thick-sliced Parisian sourdough, nestled in a napkin covered basket, arrives immediately at the table. In addition to the dish of butter, each table has a bottle of hearty, robust, golden olive oil. It is in an attractive tall bottle with the Scoma’s logo.

There are no specials, but the waiter points out which fish was freshly caught that day by Scoma’s fishing fleet. There is Fish Receiving Station building on the dock next to the restaurant where you can watch the fresh fish being loaded off the boats.

Scoma’s website (link below) quotes a January 10, 2005 Newsweek article which lists the clam chowder as one of the four best in the country calling it a “rich, creamy clam chowder infused with leeks, celery, garlic and thyme.”

I think that the word ‘infused’ was key, as there is no actual evidence those ingredients. While the chopped clams were fresh, or a very good canned variety, I would not have chosen this chowder as one of the top four in the Bay Area, let alone the entire country.

The only spice evident was salt and there was an equal mix of clams to potato. The broth was thickened, probably with flour. The top was sprinkled with chopped parsley. It was pleasant chowder, but not one that I would seek out. I had a glass of Domaine Chandon’s chardonnay. Like everything at Scoma’s the pour was extremely generous.

Scoma’s has three versions of cioppino:
- Traditional
- Crab Cioppino: A whole cracked crab in house made sauce
- Lazy Man's Cioppino without shells

I chose the traditional cioppino, a thick marinara sauce version filled with plump juicy scallops, sweet chunks of crab legs and body, slightly over cooked fish, 3 clams in shell, tiny bay shrimp, and medium sized excellent shrimp with tails. A thick slice of toasted buttered sourdough came with the soup as well as a wedge of lemon.

I declined a paper bib when offered. I thoroughly enjoyed the cioppino. The seafood was super fresh. The house made cioppino sauce used excellent quality tomatoes and was very good, but very filling.

I noticed huge platters of food passing by and at first assumed that they were party platters being shared by a large group. In fact, they were individual dishes. Scoma’s portions are huge. If you are not a big eater, you might consider sharing an entrée.

After the dishes were removed, I was brought a plate with a warm wet napkin and a slice of lemon. Cioppino can be a bit messy and this was a lovely way to refresh your hands.

I am not sure how people have room for the desserts like the house made tiramisu, crème carmel or cheesecake. There is also a nice selection of after dinner cordials, ports, cognacs and single malt scotches.

I chose ice cream and an unlikely combination of spumoni and blackberry zinfandel sorbet. I really wanted to try the spumoni, but the sorbet sounded good. Another generous dish was presented with a sprig of fresh mint and a really excellent cookie. It was a flakey cookie decorated beautifully with triangular thin almond pieces.

The spumoni was average. The sorbet was refreshing and tangy with a suggestion of blackberry. The waiter made sure the kitchen arranged the ice creams on the dish so the flavors would not mix. I think the blackberry zinfandel/vanilla bean combination the waiter suggested would have been excellent.

I never linger at restaurants. I usually ask for my check with dessert so I can leave as soon as I finish. Yet I wanted to linger at Scoma’s. I ordered a decaf cappuccino which was topped with excellent foam and sprinkled with chocolate. Two ice blue hard mint candies come with the check.

The clubby room reminded me more of a New York or Chicago restaurant. I gazed out at the lights of Ghirardelli Square and looked at the boats just outside the window. Tables are close together, but the room was filled with happy diners and the atmosphere was convivial. On the pier, horse drawn carriages passed by.

The service was professional and prompt. The wait staff is attuned to making visitors feel welcome and tries to ensure that customers have the enjoyable evening they were expecting in San Francisco.

Scoma’s is off the main street and on a pier. There is free parking and it is probably one of the easiest restaurants on the pier to get to if you have problems with mobility. You drive right to the door and a valet immediately parks your car.

It seems if you have a wheelchair, you might be in an area that doesn’t have the best view. There are a few steps into many of the dining rooms.

A long intimate bar and a separate cocktail area are at the front of the restaurant.

There is a prix fix menu and on the day that I dined at Scoma’s it was a crab risotto with five mushroom ragout and sweet peas.

Scoma’s doesn’t take reservations. It is a first come, first served policy. The wait is not long and you are not rushed from your table. Many people waited outside on the pier, gazing at the golden gate bridge and watching the boats glide by.

The website says “In 1965, brothers Al and Joseph Scoma took over a six-table coffee shop for fishermen on the pier, and, over time, built the restaurant into its current 360-seat operation.”

Steven Scarabosio, who took over as Executive Chef in 2002, has more than 20 years experience at Scoma’s, working in almost every position in the kitchen during that time.

I had a lovely evening and enjoyed the food. It was the first time that I didn’t feel cheated by a restaurant in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. My tab for chowder, cioppino, dessert, cappuccino and two glasses of wine was fifty three dollars. Parking, as I said, was free.

Is there better food in San Francisco? Yes. However, I thought the simple presentation and fresh ingredients were very enjoyable and satisfying. I probably will go back to try the fresh fish. If the fish is as good as the cioppino, there may finally have a restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf I can recommend to visitors.

Next week I plan to try the cioppino at Tadichs which will give me a good basis to evaluate Scoma's.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Thanks for your report, Krys. Your diverse (and it often sounds like solo?) eating adventures astound me. I wish I were more fearless about eating alone--one of my chowish limitations.

    Your Scoma's report totally brought back memories for me. I was probably 19 yrs. old, in my 2nd yr. of college, and my girlfriends and I planned a trip into the city from the South Bay. We got a bit gussied up for dinner (ie, no sweats) and went to Scoma's, wherein I tried my first cioppino ever.

    Can't recall all the details since this was nearly 15 yrs. ago, but I remember enjoying it...the cornucopia of seafood, the rich tomatoey stew, the requisite sourdough bread. Service felt very welcomingly old school for a bunch of lassies like us. While my tastebuds and tastes have gotten more fussy w/ time and experience, Scoma's cioppino holds a dear place in my heart.

    Oddly, I think I've only eaten cioppino on one other occasion since then and that was in the Midwest. Seafood wasn't bad, but dish was totally ruined by an island of mashed potatoes submerged in the stew--blech. Must admit that I have more of a fondness for the other fish stew (dare I say), bouillaibaise, largely for its accents of saffron and fennel in fumet. Probably not fair to compare the two, but must admit that the French stew gets me more excited these days. Look forward to your Tadich cioppino report.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Carb Lover

      Thanks for sharing your memory.

      I had my first cioppino in, of all places, El Sobrante, a few weeks ago and haven't had a chance to post about it. I just never ordered it because I don't like Dungeness crab.However, this seemed a good use of said crab.

      It was good enough to get me interested in the dish and what it was supposed to taste like, so I just put the word cioppino in Chowhounds search engine.

      It really made me cringe a bit to read about cioppino reccomendations in the Mid West ... I'm not talking Chicago ... I mean REAL mid west ... for some reason I think there was a place in New Mexico ... and, of course, my all time favorite in Burlington, VT.

      There were a few half hearted mentions in SoCal, NYC and Miami.

      Seems like the centers of cioppino in the country besides SF, are the Pacific North West, Vancouver and, this surprised me, Boston. I went to college in Boston and never remember seeing it on the menu.

      1. re: Krys
        Robert Lauriston

        Cioppino is an old San Francisco dish that's caught on around the country. The word's a corruption of the Ligurian ciuppin (North Beach's Italians came mostly from Liguria), which was made by fishermen from "trash" fish and scraps. The real thing is about a third to half bones and shells.

    2. f

      Thanks for that report, Krys. I haven't been to Scoma's in years, and it's good to have that recomeendation for out of town visitors who want to eat at FW.

      I've been interested in whether Tadich's cioppino (which I haven't tried yet) is better than Rose Pistola's (which I haven't had in a long while). You've inspired me to do my own head to head competition soon! My office is right near Tadich's so I'm going to check and see whether they serve it at lunch.

      4 Replies
      1. re: farmersdaughter

        Yeah ... I'm not making any real Scoma's recs until I try their fish. There are some real scathing posts about Scomas from the 2002 period. That is sort of why I put that blurb in there about the chef because he took over a little after that, so hopefully that helped.

        I really like his bio as well. He graduated from of the Hotel and Restaurant program at San Francisco’s City College and then just worked his way up in the kitchen.

        I always like people like that, who know what it is like to peel the potatoes. It gives you a perspective and understanding that you don't get if you start at the top.

        Oh PLEASE let me know if cioppino is not served at lunch at Tadich's. I was planning to go about 2 on Friday to avoid crowds.

        I hope you do a Rose Pistola / Tadich showdown. I am really despairing when I keep hearing about Rose's great cioppino (although it came in fourth in someone else's recent taste test which had Tadichs, Yabbies, Pesce in the top SF three. He never said who came in fifth and sixth.

        Pesce got quite a few mentions on the board as well as Rose Pistola. Other mentions include Gold Spike,Barbara's Fish Trap, Duarte's and Jianna (is that still open?). Phil's in Moss Landing gets as many mentions as Tadich's.

        The only two mentions of the board about what the cioppino tasted liked were for Barbara's Fish Trap

        "on Sunday the waitress sold me on their cioppino, and I was very pleased. My portion included half a crab which was notably sweet and perfectly cooked. I spooned the garlicky crabby tomato gravy onto a child-size portion of plain linguine. A messy good time."

        Chowchild had the following to say about Duarte's (I hope he posts when he becomes Chowadult)

        "Duarte's, atmospheric century-old Portugese-American tavern in a picturesque town with good cioppino I ordered the cioppino. It was pretty good, the tomato base needed to be thicker, but the crab was delicious"

        Yeah, there's a chowdown civil war idea for you. As long as you could share a single bowl among the group because it is really, really filling. I am still full, no kidding, from Friday. I eat a little of something and that's it.

        Here's some opinions on the darker side of Scoma's.

        May 14, 2002
        Scoma's is terrible- try Alamo Square

        July 29, 2002
        Less than Savoury Experience at Scomas

        Maya really, really didn't like Scoma's. So the best I can say at this point is if someone goes, get the cioppino (in season) and skip the clam chowder.


          1. re: Krys

            I just checked at Tadich's and they have the same menu for lunch and dinner. Cioppino is $20.50.

            I'm going to expand my cioppino head-to-head to include Pesce as well as Tadich and Rose Pistola.

            1. re: farmersdaughter

              Note: I just had the cioppino a couple of weekends ago at Tadich and it was EVEN BETTER than I remember. Fabulous spicy broth -- just the right consistency. Large chunks of many different kinds of fish and shellfish (tuna being particularly good). Complemented perfectly by the truly-chew old-fashioned sourdough. Magnificent.

              The seafood sampler appetizer was only so-so, but that's not why we were there, however. Cioppino rules.

        1. While looking for something else, I found Scoma's recipe. Actually a pretty accurate picture of a bowl of it (a little on the dark side). AND actual pictures of the chef preparing it.

          So if you go, here's a link (sigh) to the recipe on the Home Cooking Board.