I have often walked past the Tadich Grill on my visits to San Francisco, but somehow have never seemed to have time to actually make it through the doors. This is the oldest restaurant in California, claimed to date back in one form to another to 1849, the time of the gold rush. This is a slightly creative take on history, though, as the place was originally a coffee stand under a different name, ownership and location when it started trading. John Tadich bought it in 1887. It was renamed the Tadich Grilli in 1912, and the restaurant finally settled in its current home in the financial district in 1967.
These days it has a long wooden bar on the right as you go in and a series of booths and tables on the left. The décor is all dark wood panel and art deco lamps. It has served the likes of Clark Gable, Lana Turner and Groucho Marx. The gloomily lit dining room seats around a hundred people, and turnover is brisk. On a busy day the restaurant may serve over 800 customers. No reservations are taken; with this level of demand, it is hard to blame them.
The restaurant specialises in seafood, and has a very lengthy menu. The wine list started at $38 and had wines such as Acacia Chardonnay 2012 at $39 for a wine that you can find in a liquor store for $20, Dehlinger Pinot Noir 2011 at $85 for a wine that costs $52 in a shop, and Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 at $140 compared to a retail price of around $103.
A salad of Dungeness crab ($19.25) appeared quite large, though it was heavily bulked out with iceberg lettuce, tasteless tomato and the odd shrimp. The crab itself was fine, the vinaigrette served in a dish to one side. This was a harmless enough salad (11/20). Sourdough bread was actually very good, with a pleasing acidic tang (14/20). This is bought in from the Boudin bakery, in itself a venerable institution that dates back to 1849. This bakery now has numerous outlets around California, its flagship store being at Fisherman's Wharf. It is claimed that the sourdough is made from the same starter yeast developed back in the California gold rush.
Fried prawns ($30.95) were pleasant, with reasonably crisp batter and decent flavour, served with snow peas and fried potatoes (described here using the old term "long branch potatoes"). The latter were rather thick and lacked both seasoning and much in the way of flavour, though the snow peas were cooked nicely (12/20).
Service was efficient though hardly cuddly, the staff clearly geared towards getting diners through the system quickly. The bill for my two course lunch with just tap water to drink was $54.59 (£34) before tip. If you had three courses, coffee and modest wine then a typical all-in bill would be perhaps $90 (£54), not a vast sum but to be honest not a bargain for the level of cooking. History comes with a premium price.