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History in a Bowl

Cioppino at Duarte's. Again, this is *half* an order!

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I spent this past weekend at a yoga retreat in Pescadero, California, about an hour south of San Francisco, and there I had two important epiphanies. First epiphany: I am in this yoga thing purely for the physical benefits, not the spiritual ones. Enough of the chanting and meditation already! Second, and completely unrelated: a $30 a bowl of soup really is worth it. At Duarte’s Tavern, at least.

Duarte’s shows up in all the San Francisco guidebooks, and they all say the same thing:

  1. It’s old. Duarte’s (pronounced DOO-erts, as best as I can tell) has been open since 1894, with just a brief hiatus over Prohibition. That’s pretty old by San Francisco standards. The bar/restaurant is situated in a charming clapboard building that looks vaguely barn-y, in an Old West kind of way.
  2. Get the olallieberry pie. Olallieberries are similar (and related) to blackberries; they’re just bigger and easier to pick. They’re grown throughout the area surrounding Pescadero, where you see endless roadside stands selling them. Duarte’s is known for their pies, and the olallieberry is the most praised.
  3. Get the cioppino. Cioppino, despite its very authentically-Italian-sounding name, was actually born in San Francisco in the late 1800s. Developed by Italian fishermen working in North Beach, it’s one of those hodgepodgey soups that features several different kinds of fish and seafood in a tomatoey broth.

I have to admit that I almost didn’t order the cioppino at Duarte’s. I mean, $30? For soup? But it was the specialty, and I’d never had it before. Heck, even the name of the town suggested expertise: Pescadero means “fisherman” in Spanish. So my friend Mary and I took a chance, and decided to share an order.

Before the soup arrived, the accoutrements landed on the table: cloth bibs (much classier than the plastic variety), napkins, a crab cracker and pick, and an empty bowl for shells. Then the bowl of cioppino came. It was huge! (And they had divided it into two bowls already – the full order would have required a bucket to contain it all). The local Dungeness crab was meaty and buttery and plentiful (half a crab for each of us – praise be!); the tomato broth was deep and complex. This was serious seafood, and there was a lot of it to boot.

It’s quite a hit to the wallet, but I’m completely sold, and I’m already planning a return trip. (I have good reason, too; I was so stuffed after the cioppino that I didn’t try the pie.)

That’s my spendy-but-worth-it story. What’s your favorite restaurant extravagance?


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  • User avater
    eatwelleatcheap | 07/13/2009

    I seem to remember that the deep fried artichoke hearts are splendid as well. Maybe when you go back, you can have those as an appetizer before the olallieberry pie.

  • poorsh | 06/19/2009

    There is a restaurant here in Vancouver BC Canada that is called Cioppino's. The Goalie for the Vancouver Canucks is a huge fan of their ciappino soup. Went online and it is a 24 hour prep just to make the soup base. My next goal to visit and try it.

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