This review is long overdue. I was driving from San Francisco to Seattle for the umpteenth time, and collapsed at the Elliott Hotel after an exhausting drive from Brookings. Two nights earlier, I'd been treated to clam chowder that tasted of corn starch, and a fish stew smothered in molten cheese, and my meal at the restaurant across the street from the Elliott the night before hadn't exactly been anything to write home about.
I had decided to kill the day in Astoria before heading home to Seattle. I started with a tour of the Flavel House, the mansion built by the Columbia River pilot whoi made a fortune in the 1800s. I walked toward the river, looking for a spot to have lunch. Clemente's looked promising, but I frankly wasn't expecting much as I walked inside and sat down in a rather cavernous and empty room. (It was mid-week in March, not exactly the height of the tourist crush.)
Ah, cioppino. That's what I had on the California side of the border near Brookings. Let's see how these guys murder it, I thought. Well, by the end of that meal, served with some crispy bread and a glass of wine, I was almost in tears. "My God," I said to the waitress, "who is the cook, and what is this world-class chef doing in a small town in Oregon?"
From here on out, all cioppino will be measured against this. The flavors of the broth were just right, complementing the lovely seafood while not overwhelming it, yet not slinking off into the background. You could just about taste the sun on the tomatoes, and pick out individual spices. I was near tears eating this wonderful, simple dish!
I was privileged to meet the chef, who turned out to be half of the husband-wife team who own the place, and before I left I promised to prowl the Internet, singing the praises of this restaurant and its cioppino. I have been all over the world -- a couple dozen countries -- and have eaten in some of the world's best restaurants. If you want to find the best cioppino in the world, this is the place.
p.s.: I want to assure everyone who reads this review that I am not in any way acquainted with the owners, beyond having gushed to the cook that afternoon. I simply loved the food, and in America we lovers of great food have an obligation to repay the passion of those who prepare it for us. Bravo, Clemente's!
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