Sometime in the late 1800s, an Italian fishmonger is said to have invented cioppino by throwing leftover pieces of fish into a pot. You can find versions of this tomato-based fish stew all over the city, from Fisherman's Wharf to North Beach; many swear by the version at Tadich Grill. One under-the-radar cioppino that deserves high praise is available only on Tuesdays at Beretta.
Beretta features a different "main" every night, and while I have no doubt the meatier options are also great, the cioppino (and one of the bar's powerful, dangerously delicious cocktails) is a perfect way to make Tuesday night shine brighter.
The cioppino arrives in a huge white bowl, accompanied by a small bowl for shells. It is brimming with seafood: clams, mussels, rings of squid, firm round shrimp, chunks of white fish (halibut, I'd guess), and shelled crabmeat. Two spears of toasted bread emerge from the broth; simple, but effective for soaking up the juices. A spoonful brings a briny taste of clam juice; the tomato broth is redolent of garlic, fresh herbs, and a touch of wine.
Other than a squid ring that got a bit rubbery, the different types of fish were cooked just right: the shrimp a bit springy to the bite, the shellfish soft and sweet, the white fish both meaty and fall-apart tender. Beretta adds crab right before each dish goes out to its hungry guest, so while it is not as obvious to the eye as a big claw might be, the shreds are there, their rich taste only slightly masked by garlic and tomatoes.
If you'd like some fresh greens to balance things out, go for Beretta's newly-added Insalata Mista. A small -- at just $7 -- is enough for two, and a more beautiful salad would be hard to find. Leafy mesclun is topped with tiny tomatoes, long strands of carrot and red and yellow beets, and transparent slices of radish, all lightly coated with red wine vinaigrette.
Considering that a generous bowl of cioppino is just $19, this is a meal that won't tremendously hurt your wallet, and will definitely improve your Tuesday evening.