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    Scott’s Chowder House’s Michelin-Starred Chef Manrique Reveals Secrets to Seafood Deliciousness

    By David Landis–

    It’s like that old Peter Allen song. “Everything old is new again.” Sometimes, that’s a great thing.

    I remember the heydays of Scott’s seafood restaurants throughout the Bay Area back in the 80s. They offered the freshest seafood in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Walnut Creek, and maybe other locales I never visited. Recently, I got a notice that Scott’s Chowder House was opening near Chinatown in San Francisco and I thought, “I have to go! An oldie but a goodie is getting a re-vamp.”

    Well, sort of. The truth (and what I never realized) is that all the Scott’s restaurants were owned by different people. The good news is that the folks behind the Scott’s in Palo Alto (owner Steve Mayer, who has partnered in San Francisco with Executive Chef Sammy Reyes) decided to engage Michelin-star chef Laurent Manrique as an advisor and open a re-imagining of the old concept called Scott’s Chowder House. They opened first in San Jose and now we’re lucky enough to have one on Grant Avenue near Bush Street in San Francisco.

    The Gay Gourmet had the pleasure of speaking with Chef Manrique for the San Francisco Bay Times. We spoke about the vision and inspiration for these new chowder houses and how his culinary background influenced this new take on these ageless seafood eateries.

    I first asked Chef Manrique about his stellar and award-winning background, including stints at the acclaimed Taillevent in Paris; Peacock Alley in New York; and Campton Place, Acqua, and now Café de la Presse in San Francisco. “When I started this career,” he explained, “each place brought something new. At Taillevent, I was young and cooked for presidents and artists. It was a tremendous professional experience and my first work as a chef, where I managed 4–5 people: a true learning experience talking to people and learning from them. Being a chef in France is like the military—good for a career, but it can be restrictive. New York was a tremendous time, a hard time, where you work very hard and you don’t sleep very much. I thought I needed to see somewhere else.”

    “Campton Place contacted me and asked if I would like to come here to San Francisco,” he continued. “I flew in, walked around the city and I loved the place. It reminds me of where I grew up in the southwest of France. That was in 1999; San Francisco was very different at the time. I thought San Franciscans were in synergy with the food community. Campton Place is a jewel. That hotel, the location, the size of the restaurant is very precious. After that, Aqua was a big monster—Michael Mina left in 2001 and they had no chef for a year. They told me, ‘If you want the job, it’s yours.’ It was the first time I cooked seafood. I had to reinvent myself; that was a great adventure. It was a breeding ground for some of the best talent in the industry, including: Peter Armellino (now chef/owner at Plumed Horse in Saratoga), Dustin Valette (now at Valette restaurant in Healdsburg), Ron Boyd and Kim Alter (now at Nightbird in San Francisco), Karim Guedouar (now General Manager of Daniel in NY), Mark Zotto (now at Bar Zotto, in the Mission), and Top Chef Michelle Minori. We had an incredible team.”

    He added, “When the Michelin guy came, I was hoping for one star. It was the first time Michelin arrived in the U.S. and Aqua received two stars, which was very emotional for everybody. Then I thought, now I want three stars, but that’s a lot of sacrifice. I had left New York because I didn’t want that. So then, I resigned from Aqua in 2018. Café de la Presse started in 2005. The original owner, Jean Gabriel, was a friend of Steve Mayer, who is now my business partner. He wanted to retire but was looking for a French guy to run the place. Steve said, ‘Let’s do that together.’ We thought it was a lovely spot, but we wanted to make it very French. We decided to open the wall and make it a French brasserie with newspapers and croissants. The team is the same since 2005.”

    I queried Chef Manrique about how—and why—he wanted to work with Scott’s Chowder House. “Steve Mayer is the connection, he is my partner at Café de la Presse,” replied Chef Manrique. “He owned the original Scott’s in Palo Alto. None of the Scott’s Seafood restaurants were connected; they were completely separated. Last year, Steve had this idea of a chowder house. I love the concept. One of my favorite restaurants is Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay. I thought, ‘If we’re going to do that, it’s pretty exciting.’ They opened the first Sam’s Chowder House in San Jose on First Street. Steve said, ‘Do you want to help us with quality seafood and recipes and maybe we open another one in the city?’ I said, ‘Yes. Let’s keep it simple: a good soup, a good sandwich—not fancy or formal. We can serve it in a paper cup, make it easygoing.’ The second chowder house opened in St. Mark’s Square, San Jose—and now in San Francisco. The design came from Steve; he took photos of seafood restaurants with fishing boats in Portugal. We tried to re-create that—same color, same feel.”

    I asked: What’s the secret to a tasty chowder? “For the Manhattan chowder,” Chef Manrique shared, “I use fresh tomato sauce, a lot of vegetables, clams, clam juice, different spices, garlic, and oregano. When I was in New York, I ate a lot of chowder—it should be like a good minestrone. You need to use larger clams for the flavor and small clams for the quality of the meat. For the Boston chowder, the secret is you add sherry wine. You just add raw sherry at the end to get a nutty flavor. You use the natural stock from the potato. This is not a healthy diet—it has a lot of cream!”

    I also questioned Chef Manrique about where he gets his seafood and how it’s so fresh. “The secret,” he explained, “is you don’t buy too much. I buy from Monterey Fish. I’ve been a customer of theirs since Aqua. You have to get it every day; but buy it as you need it.”

    And the secret to the Dungeness crab roll, and crab cakes? “For the crab roll, don’t mix too much with the crab—a light vinaigrette, or butter—we make our own mayonnaise, but just a touch. Brioche sometimes can be too rich. We rub bread with clarified butter infused with rosemary and brush the bread and toast it. For the crab cake sauce, we add honey mustard, Cajun spice, and a little bit of chipotle—the base is mayonnaise, fresh arugula. We use fresh crab meat, no bread in the mixture; we put the bread crumbs around the crab cake. If you want to be good, you have to have quality ingredients.”

    So, how’s the food at Scott’s Chowder House? Simply scrumptious. It’s rare to visit a seafood restaurant where everything is completely fresh (you don’t even need a squeeze of lemon!). It’s even rarer, especially in San Francisco, for it to be affordable. Scott’s Chowder House delivers on all accounts.

    When I visited for lunch, we chose to eat outdoors on the beautiful patio. But the inside has elements that make you think you’re in an East Coast fishery, with nets; accents of blue and white; and clean, modern touches abounding. You order at the counter and then the extremely helpful and knowledgeable waitstaff brings your food to your table. The menu isn’t extensive, but everything on the menu was an A-plus. The wine selection includes California, Spanish, and French whites (we chose a glass of the dry Spanish Albariño), reds, and rosés. Complementing that, the restaurant also has a nice variety of local beers, including Lagunitas IPA and Anchor Steam.

    To start, we decided to split Scott’s Manhattan-style clam chowder (deliciously sweet and brimming with fresh cut vegetables—think of a Minestrone with fresh clams—) and Scott’s Boston-style clam chowder (creamy, but not gooey—no corn starch here!), both served with a slice of toasted sourdough bread. The menu also boasts a Maine lobster bisque in a tomato-based broth, a smoked salmon chowder, a vegan chowder, and a seafood gumbo. Diners have a choice of a cup, a bowl, a bread bowl, or a quart size.

    For our mains, we split the Dungeness crab roll, served cold with a lemon mayonnaise, red pickled onions, green apple, celery, and fresh dill. I’ve frankly never had a better crab roll in San Francisco—this one had huge chunks of Dungeness crab meat, spilling out over the sides of the toasted sweet bun. I can’t recommend this sandwich enough!

    From there, we also split the tasty Dungeness crab cake sandwich, served on a brioche bun with arugula, fennel, and Cajun aioli. What I particularly liked best about this dish is that, instead of putting bread crumbs into the mixture, Chef Manrique coats the crab cake with a panko dusting on the outside and lets the crab shine through by itself. Both sandwiches are served with house-made paprika potato chips that are crunchy yet tangy; a lemon wedge; a dill pickle; and house-made, creamy coleslaw. The menu also includes a smoked salmon cobb salad; a quinoa, kale, and chicken power bowl; a kale Caesar salad; a shrimp Louie; and a beet and berries salad. For dessert, the offerings include a s’mores sundae with hot fudge and a fresh summer berries sundae with a side of blackberry Cabernet sorbet.

    For an economical and casual dining expedition that will make you think you’re eating straight off the pier, Scott’s Chowder House can’t be beat.

    Bits and Bites

    Boulevard, profiled earlier this year by The Gay Gourmet, has renovated and re-opened in late September. It’s still one of San Francisco’s best … the artsy Bar Fluxus on Harlan Place had its opening in mid-September and looks like a fun place to try a crafty new cocktail … the iconic Chez Panisse, which just turned 50, now has pushed off its re-opening until 2022 … congratulations to Michelin star winners in the Bay Area: Birdsong, Avery, Marlena, Niku, O’ by Claude Tohic, Shota, Atelier Crenn, Bar Crenn, Quince, Acquerello, Campton Place, Californios, Coi, Lazy Bear, Saison, Al’s Place, Angler, Gary Danko, Ju-Ni, Kin Khao, Mister Jiu’s, Mourad, Omakase, The Progress, Sons & Daughters, Sorrel, SPQR, Spruce, State Bird Provisions, Wako and Benu in San Francisco, Commis in Oakland, Harbor House Inn in Elk (Mendocino), Adega in San Jose, Sushi Shin in Redwood City, Selby’s in Atherton, Barndiva and Single Thread in Healdsburg, the French Laundry in Yountville, Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, Manresa in Los Gatos, Aubergine in Carmel, Chez TV in Mountain View, Kenzo and La Toque in Napa, The Kitchen in Sacramento, Madera in Menlo Park, Madcap in San Anselmo, Plumed Horse in Saratoga, Protégé in Palo Alto, Rasa in Burlingame, Sushi Yoshizumi and Wakuriya in San Mateo, and the Village Pub in Woodside … by the way, if you haven’t tried it in a while, it’s worth another visit to the Presidio Social Club in San Francisco, where they’ve expanded their deck and offer a pup-friendly decadent brunch … for steakhouses in the city, the Vault Steakhouse opened downstairs at 555 California; Miller & Lux (Tyler Florence’s latest) looks very splashy at the Chase Center; and Izzy’s Steakhouse sports a delightful parklet that feels like a trip to a Parisian café … Julia, a new film from Sony Classics about the seminal Julia Childs, opens in New York and Los Angeles theatres November 5, but watch for local listings … I’ve been hearing good things about Fair Market Delivery, where great chefs cook at home … and Gaby Maeda from State Bird Provisions has just been named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef of 2021!

    Scott’s Chowder House: https://tinyurl.com/yv9hf7he

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: davidlandissf@gmail.com Or visit him online at: www.gaygourmetsf.com

    Published on October 21, 2021