In February of 1998, Alamo Square Seafood Grill opened its doors near the Painted Ladies of Alamo Square Park in San Francisco, California. Just out front hangs an eye-catching artist’s rendering of a trio of the Victorian beauties. On a typical evening, dozens of twinkling candles catch your eye as you pass, beckoning you inside.
I spoke with Andre Larzul, one of the founders of Alamo Square Seafood Grill, about love of food in the time of Covid-19 and how, lately, evenings are anything but typical.
As odd as it sounds, you could say Andre Larzul has seafood in his blood. Life in his French village centered around the port, the fishermen, and the lobster (or, langoustine). His family’s own restaurant was fueled by camaraderie, generations of dedicated chefs, fine wine, and fresh seafood. It was a familial affair, and Andre remembers dishwashing by the ripe age of 12.
As he grew older, Andre expanded his repertoire: bussing, expediting, working the meat and pastry stations, serving wine…he did it all.
Once he entered adulthood, Andre made his way to America, $20 in his pocket and determined to share his distinct culinary vision with the City by the Bay.
“It was an easy menu to write,” he tells me. Like I said: seafood in his blood.
In a time when everything seems transitory and malleable, it’s astonishing – and encouraging – to learn that two of Alamo Square Seafood Grill’s original employees are still part of its daily operations. In speaking with Andre, I begin to understand how this kind of loyalty is cultivated.
When San Francisco was placed on lock down for Covid-19, Andre took it hard. He worried about his staff – his second family. How would they pay bills, care for their kids, and navigate the fog of uncertainty and fear?
“We (the staff) came with bags, we emptied the fridges, we went home with some good food, and we hoped for the best.”
But the best would have to wait. What followed were anxious days and nights, staff members in tears, and the unmistakable sound of a life’s work grinding slowly to a halt.
To help stem the tide of insolvency, a GoFundMe was created for the staff. Next came some relief in the form of a PPP loan. The staff huddled together under that same familiar roof and promptly went to work.
They painted, cleaned, and lovingly spruced up the space. The projects gave everyone hope in community and a buzzing sense of purpose and potential for what was to come.
Andre now describes the restaurant as semi-operational. “Business is minimal, but the staff is back together. Spending time together is good for everyone.”
But Alamo Square faces another challenge: They rely heavily on nearby bed-and-breakfasts for the bulk of their clientele.
“I’m really apart from the commercial district,” Andre tells me. “I’m standing alone in the neighborhood.” He worries that nonexistent business from the B&Bs will spell trouble for Alamo Square Seafood even after they’re given the dine-in green-light.
Still, the Alamo family remains hopeful. And creative. There are new Family Meals available for delivery and pickup – enough food for four with an optional wine pairing. Then there’s the wine bottles themselves – all half-off.
The menu remains as mouth-watering and tantalizing as ever: mushroom soup velouté, blackened Pacific Snapper with béarnaise, a delicate, towering tiramisu. The culinary array is spectacularly comforting in a time when most people can use a dose of comfort. And a dose of wine.
I grew up in Texas, where the phrase “Remember the Alamo” is synonymous with courage.
I’ll remember Andre’s Alamo too. And if you find yourself in the Bay Area with a taste for fresh seafood, I hope you do the same.