Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Tale of Two Chowders

Clam Chowder,  and more specifically, New England Clam Chowder, since Manhattan is clam soup in my food lexicon, isn’t one of my favorite foods.  It isn’t even my favorite soup.  But I have had a favorite clam chowder for more than 20 years.  It served at Andria’s Seafood in Ventura, California.  Andria’s also happens to be home to the best Calamari I’ve ever had.  There is nothing like sitting outdoors, on a warm day, in the harbor eating calamari, while they wheel giant tubs of squid off the boats docked yards away into the fish market and restaurant.

Calamari at Andria's with a squid boat in the harbor.
I’ve had other “The Best Chowder” at many restaurants, beach food stands and even carts.  They’ve never been as good as Andria’s.  And Andria’s is always good.  When I lived in Ventura and ate there a few times a week, it was always good.  Now that I only visit every few years, it’s still always good.  It’s hard to explain why, in fact there might be  things I don’t like about it.  A good chowder cooks for a long time and thickens as it does.  Andria’s might be too thick.  I generally like rustic soups, big pieces of potatoes, carrots and most important big pieces of clams.  You won’t find any of that in Andria’s clam chowder, it’s almost more like gravy than soup.  What it might lack in texture or visual appeal, it more than makes up for in flavor.  The clam flavor is right up front, but isn’t overpowering.  It’s slightly smoky, slightly roasty with a hint of bay leaf.  It smells like the ocean, which is all around you while you eat it, and it’s “on the menu” 365 days a year and is exactly the same every single time.

Andria's Clam Chowder
I have a new chowder that I really love.  It’s served at Alcyone in Salem and I have it almost every Friday, which is the only day it’s available.  It’s exactly how I think a chowder should be and exactly how I make it myself.  Lot’s of big pieces of clam, smooth beautiful texture to the broth, and very fresh tasting.  I even found myself saying, several times, this might be as good as Andria’s.  I even allowed myself to think that maybe I just had a romantic notion of how good Andria’s chowder was.

Alcyone Clam Chowder
 Jeanne and I visited Ventura last weekend.  We were in Southern California for my sister Kati’s wedding.  It wasn’t time or distance clouding my memory or judgement.  The chowder and calamari were both absolutely amazing!  I was surprised to see that the chowder now comes in real bowl instead of styrofoam, and that calamari and chips now comes in a cute little boat shaped wire basket instead of a paper tray.  I was very glad the only changes were cosmetic, and that the food was still as good as it’s ever been.

I’m grateful to be able to eat the second best chowder I’ve ever had, once a week.  And very grateful that no matter how long I’ve been away, Andria’s never ever disappoints.

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