Tadich Grill is essentially a seafood restaurant and has been for over 166 years. Twice a day (and sometimes all afternoon), the place bustles as waiters serve aromatic dishes bearing last night's catch, broiled, sautéed, or grilled. It is noisy, yes. But unlike some popular spots, it's not so noisy that you can't have a conversation with your companions. You could do no better than to take them to Tadich Grill, which is not only San Francisco's, but also California's, oldest restaurant. If you'd been to Tadich Grill a century ago, it would hardly have looked any different. Back then, customers left happy and returned frequently, just like they still do.
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
16 tbsp. butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 leek, white part only, trimmed, cleaned, and chopped
1⁄2 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
2 tbsp. tomato paste
4 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried basil
2 pinches cayenne
2 (28-oz.) cans crushed Italian tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 1⁄2 lb. halibut filet, cut into large pieces
16 sea scallops
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1⁄2 lb. raw bay shrimp, if available, or smallest shrimp available, peeled
1-2 cups flour
12 oz. crab meat, preferably dungeness, picked over
2 cups dry white wine
16 manila clams, scrubbed
1⁄2 bunch parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat 1⁄2 cup of the oil and 8 tbsp. of the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes. Add carrots, celery, peppers, leeks, and fennel and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, 4 cups water, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, basil, and cayenne and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours.
Heat remaining 1⁄2 cup oil, 8 tbsp. butter, and garlic in a large, heavy skillet over high heat until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Working in 2 batches, dredge halibut, scallops, and large and bay shrimp in flour, shaking off excess, and fry, turning seafood frequently, until golden, 1-2 minutes. Transfer seafood with a slotted spoon to pot with sauce, and add crab meat, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Add wine to same skillet over high heat, scraping browned bits stuck to bottom of skillet. Add clams, cover, and cook until shells open, about 5 minutes. (Discard any clams that don't open.) Add clams and broth to pot; adjust seasonings. Ladle soup into large bowls, garnish with parsley, and serve with toasted sourdough bread, if you like.