During our stay in Dana Point, CA, we were looking for a place where we could have dinner right on the water. Some place that offered great views of the Pacific Ocean and a place that preferably had seafood. We asked someone at our hotel where a place like that may be that was a close drive away. That person told us about The Fisherman's Restaurant and Bar on the pier in San Clemente, just south of Dana Point.
The Fisherman's Restaurant and Bar is one of two locations the restaurant actually has - the other one is up in Seattle. Owner Hal Griffith grew up with his family having clambakes and fish fry parties on the beaches of his native Northwest U.S. Griffith was originally a damaged cargo salvager in the Seattle area and eventually opened a small shop on Seattle's Pier 57 to sell the salvaged goods that he bought. He eventually began to develop other businesses on Pier 57 including restaurants eventually buying the pier from the City of Seattle. In 2012, along with his sons, Griffith opened the Seattle Great Wheel, a Ferris wheel that was constructed at the end of Pier 57.
Nearly 30 years ago, San Clemente, CA was looking for someone to lease a small snack stand space at the entry of that city's long and historic pier. Griffith came in and made an offer to lease the stand and he opened The Fisherman's in 1987. Three years later, Griffith proposed expanding the space into two different spots - one a more formal sit down restaurant and on the other side there would be more of an oyster bar/lounge. Griffith's proposal was met with a lot of derision from the locals, but in the end the city council approved his plans and that's how The Fisherman's Restaurant and Bar came to be 25 years ago.
The San Clemente Pier is located along a stretch of Aveinda Victoria that winds down through downtown San Clemente. (see map) There's some public parking just up the hill from The Fisherman's that we took advantage of and went down to the pier. Crossing over the Amtrak tracks to get to there, we decided to take a walk out to the end of the pier to take in the ocean and coastal scenery.
The pier is nearly a quarter mile long - at 1296 feet it is the 15th longest pier along the California coast. It offered stunning views of the coast and the ocean, and was a popular place with walkers, fishermen and sight-seers.
The Fisherman's two places - the regular restaurant and the oyster bar - are at the start of the pier. We decided to see if we could eat on the deck of the oyster bar as the sun was getting ready to set. The hostess took us to a table on the deck that overlooked the coast line up to Dana Point and past with the sun slowly sinking into the Pacific Ocean. The breeze coming off the ocean was cool - it was cool the whole time we were in Southern California - so propane heating lamps were burning to keep the outside patrons warm.
Looking for a complete seafood overload, we looked through the menu to start picking stuff out to try. Our server for the evening, Caitlyn, came over to greet us and take our drink order. Cindy ordered up a mai tai and I ordered a beer. And right away, we ordered up a couple of oyster shooters and a dozen oysters on the half-shell.
The oyster shooters were swimming in a mixture of a bloody mary mix, horseradish, Tabasco, cocktail sauce and black pepper in a martini glass. The oysters were plump and weren't gritty. The mixture masked the fishy taste that we found the oysters on the half-shell had. It was a fun and unique way to start the meal.
We got an order of a dozen oysters on the half-shell after that. Like the shooters, the oysters on the half-shell at The Fisherman's were big and meaty. However, like other places we had oysters during our trip to Southern California, we found these to be somewhat fishy in smell and taste and somewhat gritty. But the one thing that made these great was the Atomic Horseradish that came with the oysters. A dollop of the overwhelming Atomic Horseradish mixed in with a meaty oyster and the fishy taste all but went away. Atomic Horseradish is great. (Click here to read about Atomic Horseradish.)
Cindy decided that she needed some clam chowder to warm her up. The lamp heaters were doing a good job of keeping me warm - I joked that the lamp was causing me to turn medium-rare on one side - but Cindy thought she needed something a little warm to help her out. The clam chowder came in a deep bowl and was a traditional New England-style chowder. Cindy said it was very good, but very rich. She couldn't finish the whole bowl because she wanted something for her main course and didn't want to spoil that.
I wanted some shrimp. They didn't have any peel-and-eat shrimp on the menu, but they did have a prawns cocktail. And for good measure, I also ordered up a dungeness crab cocktail they had on the menu that evening. The prawns were big, fresh and tasty, but the dungeness crab cocktail was heavenly. Chunks of crab meat sat on top of a cocktail sauce. As good as the prawns were, the dungeness crab cocktail was even more fabulous.
Still not satisfied that I'd had enough seafood, we signed up for bucket of the clams. They were steamed in their own natural juices, along with fresh garlic, chopped celery and onions. These clams were simply outstanding. Big and meaty, the clams were easy to chew - not the rubbery consistency that you get with over-cooked clams. It was served with fresh sourdough bread and dipping the bread into the clam broth was an extra treat to go along with the clams.
Actually, I had looked at a number of things on the menu before I ordered the bucket of clams. They had a seared ahi tuna as well as Hawaiian-style ahi tuna poke on the menu. They also had Cajun-style ahi tuna tacos. I almost went with that before deciding on the clams. Cindy had her eyes on the crab cakes and she that's what she ordered. Fresh dungeness and snow crab meat were mixed together, lightly breaded, then pan-fried in olive oil. Technically an appetizer, the crab cakes were good sized and more than enough for what Cindy was looking for. She was very happy that she got them.
I think it's safe to say that we fully achieved seafood overload during our visit to The Fisherman's Restaurant and Bar in San Clemente. From the great views, to the relaxed atmosphere, to the good service, and the broad selection of very good seafood The Fisherman's was exactly what we were looking for that particular evening. This was fun for us to just order a bunch of things and we enjoyed them all very much.