(Sorry for the crappy cell phone shot. Didn’t have the camera handy.)
I grew up in the Northeast, in Schenectady, NY, which I often say is a nice place to be from. You’ll notice I don’t live there anymore. But it has many desirable characteristics — a deep and interesting history, access to locations of great natural beauty and relative proximity to the greatest city on earth, New York. It’s also just a few hours’ drive from the New England shores.
Because my mother is a beach addict and sun worshiper, nearly every summer involved at least one excursion to pray at the shrine. We lolled on the rocky shores of Rhode Island, gawked at mansions in Newport and ships in Mystic, CT, went whale-watching from Provincetown, MA.
Sensations from these trips are emblazoned in my mind. Hot sun prickling on skin. The ionic smell of salt air. Gulls calling overhead. The rush of adrenaline watching a 60-foot humpback whale hurls itself bodily out of the sea, landing in a dull, percussive whomp and casting an enormous watery plume.
And then there’s the seafood.
Crispy strips of fried clams. Cherrystones and oysters on the half shell. Filets of firm, white fish plucked fresh from the sea. To say nothing of the lobster rolls, which I have been pining after for years and which, as God is my witness, I will make this year. Hold me to it, people!
I’m not saying that we don’t get some of the finest seafood in the world right here in good old Ess Eff. But I am saying it’s a whole different kettle of fish than you get back east. But when I get nostalgic for New England seaside shacks, I know I can fix my jones at Anchor Oyster Bar.
Despite being wedged mid-block between a clubwear store and a realtor in the gayest block on earth, Anchor transports you to the coast from the moment you step through the door. There’s a predictable maritime theme just this side of over-the-top: One big stuffed marlin, several toy boats, some fishnet. You know, just to remind you that you’re about to eat fish. My favorite touch, though, are the packets of oyster crackers in abalone shells on each table.
The place is impeccably clean and bright. It’s white floor-to-ceiling, with chrome and steel accents to drive home the sensation of almost clinical sterility. They remodel every year (!), which I imagine is necessary to maintain that degree of brightness.
First up, I got some oysters, of course, a half dozen of the selection of the day: Broad and meaty Matha’s Vineyard; soft Stellar Bay, tasting as clean as a sea breeze; refreshingly mild miyagis; and some potently oystery Kumamotos that left a lingering salty mineral flavor on the finish.
DPaul got the shrimp cocktail, a healthy mound of perfectly cooked tiny bay shrimp, tender and sweet enough that they fortunately didn’t need the jarred cocktail sauce and horseradish in the accompanying ramekin. We have on several occasions gotten their shrimp for parties — big, meaty ones — and they are always cooked to perfection in a flavorful broth.
My petrale sole came as two mighty filets baked in a cornmeal crust and slathered with an aromatic scallion butter; some nicely roasted Yukon golds and an uninspired but colorful collection of steamed veggies rounded out the dish.
DPaul’s crab burger was more of a crab salad sandwich on a hamburger bun, but I didn’t hear any complaints from him.
It’s not a cheap affair, though. Our lunch set us back more than 70 clams after tip. Still, it’s cheaper than a trip to the Cape.
Anchor Oyster Bar
579 Castro St (near 19th)
One year ago today … I chalked up a couple suggestions for top-notch chocolate for Valentine’s — or any — day, and I lamented the lack of a decent grocery store here in Noe Valley. Which remains true to this day.