Raw oysters sprinkled with black pepper and lemon juice—every table is supplied with a bowl heaped with lemon wedges—are my favorite starter at Tadich’s. The oysters Rockefeller bore little relationship to most versions of the dish, buried under spinach and a cheese sauce. Of the soups, I prefer the Coney Island clam chowder to the wine-flavored Boston clam chowder, but both are rich with clams. The most satisfying soup may well be the oyster stew made with cream and milk, butter, succulent Eastern oysters, and no intrusive seasonings. For a main course I can’t resist grilled fresh fish, whether swordfish, sturgeon, or rex sole. The thick French fries accompanying them are of varying quality, and the occasional sauces such as hollandaise are uninspired, but the fish are paragons of the art of grilling. A few months ago I ordered a seafood cioppino that proved so popular when first introduced that it became a standard menu item. Breathing fire and emitting a strong aroma of herbs, it came to table in a large crock, a gargantuan quantity of shrimp, crabs, prawns, and sea bass with tomatoes in a white-wine fish stock. A woman next to me was tackling a similar-looking “bouillabaisse,” a thick, saffron-flavored broth with all the seafood in my cioppino plus oysters. Valiantly we did our best, but the portions proved too much for either of us. No thought was given to dessert that day, but other times I’ve finished contentedly with a flawless wedge of Cranshaw melon or a velvety rice custard pudding that would have won the approval even of the recalcitrant Mary Jane.
Although I tend to stay with grilled or panfried fish, many of the restaurant’s customers, who have lunch there several times a week, look forward to the large and changing roster of meat dishes. Among the favorites are corned beef and cabbage, pot roast, and beef tongue. Tadich also serves steaks, and one of the most popular cuts is the inexpensive ($5.25) skirt steak (similar to London broil), which is pounded and broiled. There are various seafood casseroles that sound interesting—Dave Sokitch is inventive and likes to experiment with unusual combinations—but I’ve never managed to try them. It should also be noted that the mark of a good San Francisco restaurant, particularly an old San Francisco establishment, is the quality of its sourdough, and Tadich’s, baked longer than the standard loaf to achieve a dark, crackly crust, is excellent.
Tadich Grill serves continuously from 11:30 A.M. until 8:30 P.M. Monday through Saturday, shutting up tight on Sundays. The menu is entirely a la carte with straight seafood starting at $5.25 (kippered Alaska cod or rock cod) and rising to $8 and $9 (striped bass, salmon, crab legs, and prawns). Seafood casseroles are priced between $6 and $7, and most of the meat dishes run from about $3.25 to $4.75. The wine list, limited to a few standard California wines, is a footnote to a page of stronger stuff.
Tadich Grill takes no reservations, making a long wait inevitable unless a meal is scheduled between about 2 and 4:30 P.M. One of the singular sights of lower California Street on weekday mornings is the queue that begins to form in front of Tadich’s at around eleven and reaches to the corner of Battery Street by the time the restaurant opens for business. Only these early birds can be sure of getting in at the first sitting. Upon arriving at the restaurant when every seat is taken you give your name and the number in your party to the man at the head of the bar, who seats you as soon as a table turns up. Semiprivate booths can be requested for three or more. Meanwhile, everyone mills about and waits, wineglass in hand, in an atmosphere of a noisy, stand-up cocktail party. I’ve never understood why people put up with it, but I have yet to hear a complaint. By the way, the famous subtitle of Tadich Grill, “The Original Cold Day Restaurant,” derives from a political utterance rather than a meteorological phenomenon. It became permanently associated with Tadich’s in the 1880s when a regular customer, a politician named Alexander Badlam, remarked after winning a victory, “It’s a cold day when I get left.” If that’s a sample of his oratorical skills, it may explain why we’ve never heard anything more from him. For information, telephone 391-2373.