It’s that time of year again; peacoats, mittens and scarves, and the pleasant ache for something hot and heartwarming. Sometimes, the greatest meal can be the simplest prepared. A warm, hearty bowl of seafood chowder is, in fact, food for the soul in the dead of winter. And it can be addictive in its simplicity or complexity, whether it’s cooked with true fish stock and a touch of cream, constructed with a roux and milk and bacon, or even herbs, tomatoes and wine.
San Jose is now a melting pot of flavors, cultures and culinary sensibilities, but in chowder, we still seem to like the basics, made with fresh and flavorful seafood. Some of the standouts for best and worst in the area.
1875 South Bascom Avenue Campbell, CA 95008
This chowder, made with Dungeness crab and corn ($8.50) is super seasonal, and super-limited, only running until January 13th, so get it while you can. It’s a sneaky little soup, both light and rich. The smokiness of the bacon, the silkiness from the combination of potatoes and cream, the sweetness of the corn and red peppers and the little kick from the cilantro oil do not overpower the Dungeness crab, which is sweet and fresh and cooked to perfection; it makes it shine.
1100 Lincoln Ave
San Jose, CA 95125
This old seafood powerhouse from days gone by is back and up to its old tricks. The relatively standard Boston clam chowder (cup $4.95, bowl $6.25) is “famous” for all the right reasons; with huge, soft chunks of fresh clams, a full-bodied creamy smooth texture, and probably most importantly, apt and correct seasoning.
Lark Creek Blue
378 Santana Row
San Jose, CA 95128
Yankee Pier, who in the past was often praised for its decadent and fresh New England clam chowder, has facelifted to Lark Creek Blue, without butchering its recipe, which features juicy clams, a creamy base, bacon, potatoes, onions, celery and a generous black pepper warmth. A cup goes for $7, a bowl $11. Bonus points for the butter and parsley dipped dill-drop biscuit that comes floating on the surface.
Dia de Pesca
55 N Bascom Ave
San Jose, CA 95128
This roach-coach gone gourmet is known for their tacos for a reason. In the chowder ($3 cup, $4.35 bowl), the seafood is cooked well, but the broth doesn’t scream clean and you will need salt, pepper, and hot sauce to consider it edible.
Race Street Seafood Kitchen
247 Race St
San Jose, CA 95126
For such an institution in the area, the consistency should be there, but it’s not. Sometimes it’s gloppy and tastes like they used too much flour in the roux, sometimes it tastes canned, and very, very rarely, does it taste as it should. Regular bowl is $4.39, the whole sourdough shebang is $6.49.
Hawg’s Seafood Bar
1700 W Campbell Ave
Campbell, CA 95008
It’s a beautiful example of what Manhattan can be. You can taste fresh tomatoes, a little dry white wine, and lots of herbs, finished with just a hint of cream. Clams are cooked perfectly. It’s great when you want a cup ($6) or bowl ($9) you can drink a glass of wine with and not feel like you have to take a nap afterwards. The simple soup trumps most of the entrees there.
4565 Stevens Creek Blvd
Santa Clara, CA 95051
It’s kind of a mess. Too much flour, too much cream, too much salt. Clams are a little chewy, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Avoid, avoid, avoid. $5 gets you a cup, $6 gets you a bowl.
87 North San Pedro St
San Jose, CA 95110
This little hidden gem in San Pedro Square Market knows what it’s doing. Very obviously housemade fish stock base is heated to order, with par-cooked potatoes and fennel thrown in then, and the seafood is actually cooked at that very time. Scallops, mussels, clams and octopus are cooked to buttery, silky, melt-in-your-mouth, head-over-heels perfection. Don’t expect a cup ($5) or bowl ($8) chock full of seafood though, it’s obvious that it’s fresh and of high quality. They skip the bacon and go light on the cream, but it’s a dish that will stay with you. You’ll love how they finish it off, with a dusting of parsley and bright lemon zest.
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