Sotto Mare (full name Gigi’s Sotto Mare Oysteria & Seafood Restaurant & Fish Market) is a small, old school seafood place right in the heart of North Beach on Green Street just off Columbus. I’ve lived in North Beach for two years and still hadn’t been — it was time. There’s a line out the door so often (the place is small and cramped) that I’ve just never expended the effort. A few weeks ago, the line was short and I went for it.
I didn’t really know what to expect, and was hence very surprised by the atmosphere and the menu. I’ve sort of gotten used to the hoity-toity SF restaurant ambiance, which can range from rustic-chic to elegant-chic to hipster-chic, but is indeed very often some type of chic. At least when you’re paying $20 a plate or more. So I was surprised to walk into what I can only describe as a diner. Like, old school, knick-knacks all over the walls, counter seating, single-page laminated menu old school. It was interesting.
We were seated at a teeny tiny table for two behind the counter seating. The thoroughfare right next to us was extremely narrow, and connected the entrance and behind-the-counter areas to the rest of the seating. So people were constantly whooshing by literally inches away from our table, which was a tiny bit claustrophobic.
The menu is all seafood. It’s simple yet comprehensive; their specialties are fresh fish and oysters. I ordered the prawn and scallop combo saute ($19), and my partner in crime ordered the salmon, which was a special. We were provided a half loaf of bread in a basket, and the wine came in those thick, staunch wine glasses indicative of places that don’t have a particularly sophisticated wine selection. In line with this, the meals arrived on chunky, white, oblong plates from decades-ago diners.
The food was good. The sauce on my saute was rich and creamy (read: buttery) and garlicky, the topping on the salmon was basically a garlic and butter rub, and the veggies were plain but fresh. While it wasn’t a terribly fancy meal with sprigs of this and truffle that, it was very good. And though this style of eatery isn’t my personal favorite, I can appreciate that they do something well and they’ve stuck with it. I mean, the place is booming every night of the week, so obviously not everyone wants Asian Fusion or Contemporary American food all the time.
In short, the place was quirky and had character, the menu was solid, and the food was good. And, you know, sometimes you want a bit of old school charm with your seafood. Next time I’ll have to spring for their acclaimed cioppino ($38, serves two)…