Castagnola’s is more than a restaurant - it’s a piece of San Francisco’s history. Thomaso Castagnola opened the first crab stand on Fisherman’s Wharf in 1916, selling fresh crabs to passersbys. Back then I imagine you could get a huge bowl of clam chowder or a big crab cocktail for a nickel! Eventually, this stand turned into a restaurant, which the Castagnola family owned and operated until it was sold in 1975. During their tenure, however, the Castagnola family played a major role in building San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf into the popular destination it is today.
Part of the allure of this place is the amazing view. If you want to see the boats coming and going, the seals (mostly sleeping), and all of the busy activities down below, Castagnola’s should always be your first choice. As their Web site describes: "The dining room boasts floor to ceiling windows where you can watch the fishing boats return from early morning fishing trips for lunch; during dinner hours the boats serenely float on sparkling waters in the evening light." And I never tire of this sight.
To be honest, the first time I ate at Castagnola’s, I was less than pleased about the food. Yet, I know after eating at literally a thousand restaurants in my life, one so-so experience doesn’t mean a place is bad. So many factors can affect the food at an eating establishment. Maybe a rookie chef gets overwhelmed. Maybe several people are out sick. Or maybe they’re busy and rushing through the orders. I’ve worked in kitchens and I’ve worked as a cook, so I realize that problems can exist on any given evening.
So, in cases like this, I will go back when I can to give the place another chance. That’s exactly what I did two nights later and I can happily tell you that it was a great meal at Castagnola’s. We had the Fresh Dungeness Crab Cakes ($17) and the Lobster Bisque in a bread bowl ($12). The cakes were rich and velvety and the bisque was so full-bodied and full of distinctive flavors that I licked the bread bowl and then consumed it with bravado. The seals could hear my lips smacking and clapped in unison!
For our entrees, we had the Cioppino ($28) that was excellent. It came with a generous assortment of Dungeness crab legs, mussels, clams, calamari, and jumbo shrimp in a lobster broth. The tomatoes and red peppers in the soup were fresh-tasting and not overcooked. I give it an "A."
My fellow diner is a vegetarian, so she ordered the Veggie Lasagna ($17) and it was also outstanding. Fresh vegetables were layered with ricotta and tasted full of spring. We’ve had veggie lasagna before and sometimes it tastes like an afterthought; something restaurants put it on the menu to placate vegetarians. But this item is designed and prepared to make non-meat eaters happy. And it works!
Other items we saw on the menu include a wide range of top-tier steaks and chops, including the Filet Mignon (8 ounces-$39); Rib Eye (10 ounces-$41); New York (10 ounces-$38); and the big baby for hungry carnivores—the Porterhouse (16 ounces-$40). Other seafood items include a wide range of seafood pastas and a legendary Clam Chowder in a bowl ($11).
They also have great entertainment at Castagnola’s, including comedy featuring some of the best comics from throughout the Bay Area. For more information about this place, check out their Web site at: www.castagnolassf.com.
I will be performing standup comedy on April 24th with amazing headliner Jeff Applebaum. If any Broosters from SF want to come, contact me and I'll reserve a table for BrooWaha writers and their friends!
(Castagnola's is located at 286 Jefferson Street, San Francisco, Calif. 94133. (415) 776-5015 open 11 am to 10 pm 7 days /week)