Tucked away in Crockett, California, an hour outside of San Francisco where the San Pablo Bay meets the Napa River, lies a local favorite, The Dead Fish. Specializing in Pacific Coast Dungeness crab, The Dead Fish is an elegant Surf and Turf comfort food experience that draws you in with its charm and quality. It’s jam-packed seven nights a week with a flock of loyal customers who keep coming back for more. Did I mention there’s no corkage fee? When I called to inquire the hostess said, “by all means, bring your own wine or champagne and enjoy even more from the menu!” The restaurant is inspired by the Chef’s grandmother’s home cooking from Italy. Reservations highly recommended.
Location: The Dead Fish is located three minutes off Interstate-80 East, perched on the river bank at 20050 San Pablo Avenue, Crockett, CA 94525. Take the last exit before the Carquinez Bridge, heading from San Francisco to the Napa Valley’s wine country. Parking is in one three sloped parking lots – or on the weekend when it is packed, you may be parking up on a steep side street. Ladies, pick your shoes accordingly!
Menu: The Dead Fish offers an old-school Surf and Turf menu and there is a classic Italian feel as you walk up to the restaurant, which overlooks the Napa River as it flows through the Carquinez Straits and into San Pablo Bay. They are well-known for their tender Dungeness crab (a Pacific Coast delicacy), tasty seafood dishes, and Certified Angus prime rib. For brunch, you’ll find time-honored items like omelets and Eggs Benedict, complemented by Copper Pan pancakes. Happy Hour at The Dead Fish is a lure every night with its glamorous recessed marble bar, sweeping river views, and a full slate of “Drink-Like-A-Fish Cocktails.”
The dinner bread is freshly baked and divine. It’s served with whipped butter, and if you ask, your waitress will bring fresh chopped garlic, olive oil, and balsamic for a fresh aioli.
Appetizers start with standard seafood fare: mussels, oysters, clam chowder, tender calamari, and of course, crab cakes. The crab cakes are flaky and crisp on the outside just right. But beware of the size of the bruschetta: it’s immense, and you can easily share this between three or four people. My guest enjoyed the asparagus, which is grilled and then blanched, served cold instead of warm, with a delicious, rich chunk of blue cheese.
The Panzanella salad is a delight (toybox tomatoes, butter lettuce, onions, avocado, crostini, and balsamic vinaigrette). It’s refreshing, crisp, the crostini are a nice touch, and it’s generous in size. Among the salad options at The Dead Fish are Spinach salad, Romaine salad, and a West Coast Louie, along with a California staple – an organic goat cheese and beet salad.
On the more casual side, there is a full selection of Wicked Wiches, ranging from a certified hormone-free Angus Burger to a Fishwich, a Chicken Cheesesteak, a French Dipwich, a Phillywich, and a Crabwich Melt. This section of the menu has a down-home feel, perfect for lunch. If your party contains a “safe eater,” steer them to the calamari steak doré, crab enchilada, fish & chips, and shrimp & chips, or one of the pastas.
The Unsurpastas present more delights – the Crab Alfredo simply melts in your mouth. When my guest ordered the Clams Black Linguini, I looked at the broth and said under my breath without realizing it, “that looks delicious.” He responded, “I know.” And it was.
If fish is your fancy, you can choose sea bass, basa, salmon, or wild halibut prepared in one of four ways: spicy Cioppino, garlic lemon caper sauce, olive oil poached, or garlic, parsley, paprika, and butter-encrusted. Next up are delectable kettles of fresh seafood – The Dead Fish Cioppino, steamed clams in a garlic parsley broth, or shrimp, mussels, & clams in a spicy Cioppino sauce.
On an outing for my birthday, our foursome dove into the Crab Feast: a huge platter of Nonna’s World Famous Killer Dungeness Crab roasted in The Dead Fish Secret Garlic Sauce. The Dungeness was tender, garlicky, and just buttery enough, and absolutely required the crab bibs. It did not disappoint, and the portions were just right for four with appetizers and salads. And, Sizzling Iron Skillet-Roasted Crab is available in a variety of combos with mussels or shrimp.
The Turf part of the menu serves up classic dishes, from a slow-roasted Omaha Packers Certified Angus Prime Rib, to Roasted Pork Osso Buco, Braised Boneless Short Rib, Filet Mignon, or a juicy, perfectly spiced Kettle Baked Chicken. Each hearty dish comes with a side of Yukon gold garlic mashed potatoes and creamed spinach.
If you’ve saved room for dessert, the Chocolate Mousse Bomb is delicious, as is the Torta Della Nonna Lemon Tart Cake. There is also a nice selection of dessert wines – port, cordials, and cognac. Like the appetizers, portions are plentiful.
Thoughts: The restaurant is good-sized, with white stucco walls, brass doors, and vines draping the walls. As you walk in, you have an immediate view to the main room with its elegant recessed bar, surrounded with marble counters. The gas fireplace warms you on a rainy winter day, the ceilings are covered with nautical décor, and fun decorations hang throughout the rooms. There’s a wonderful view of the Carquinez Bridge, and in the springtime, after fresh rains, the surrounding grassy hills are a bright, lush green.
Happy hour is always happening at The Dead Fish. The recessed marble bar wraps around in a rectangle shape under a spacious high ceiling that’s filled with hanging Americana tchotchke decorations. The bar is stunning and entices you right in, an attraction unto itself. You can’t help wanting to sit down to experience it. Huge picture windows let in the light and the river view. Quench your thirst with a Ramos Fish Fizz, a Cold Fish Sangria, Aunt Chovie’s Moscow Mule, a Big Tuna Blood Orange Margarita, or a Sting Ray. And remember, there’s no corkage fee, so feel free to bring your own favorite bottle as well for the dinner table.
The outdoor patio, overlooking the river, is also on a slant in areas, making some of the round, mosaicked tables a bit hazardous. Ask for one of the rectangular tables. Stylish private cabanas line the rear providing an intimate atmosphere if romance is the order of the evening. There’s a warm, vibrant vibe even on the most crowded of evenings (at the busiest times, prepare for the service to slow down a bit, take advantage and linger over your appetizers and dinner). Lush vines and foliage surround the patio with birds and the occasional bee flying around. Festive lights line the patio – it’s beautiful as the sun sets and dusk falls. From time-to-time trains pass by with their familiar whistle. This locale is on the edge of the San Francisco Bay Area where the suburbs meet the surrounding farmland, and you feel it at The Dead Fish.
Price Range: The appetizers range from $5.99 for the garlic bread to $8.99 for the bruschetta (a huge portion) and a cup of crab chowder. The blanched asparagus is $9.99, the crab crostini $16.99, and a large calamari is $19.99. Salads start at $6.99 for a house side and run $11.99 for most everything else. Sandwiches start at $12.99 for a burger to $16.99 for a crabwich melt. Pasta ranges from $19.99 for asparagus chicken fettuccine to $29.99 for the seafood black linguini. Meat entrees start at $29.99 and go up to $59.99 for a slab of Angus prime rib. The famous Dungeness crab ranges from $29.99 for a half crab, guaranteed to be at least one pound, up to $119.99 for the Crab Feast to share for four. The kids’ menu is $9.99 across the board. Sides are $7.99, and desserts are $9.99.
Brunch is a fantastic deal, with all items on the menu $12.99, extra for crab. Drink-Like-A-Fish cocktails are $10.99, beer is $6.99. Wine begins at $8.99 a glass and $24.99 a bottle, on up to $89.99 and $299.99 for a well-chilled bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne.
Guest author bio: Tonya Hennessey is a freelance writer and non-profit professional who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was raised in Minneapolis, MN. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, she took off for a year of travel throughout Europe and Asia, a trip that awakened her awe of the world’s varied cultures, landscapes, and, of course, foods! Since then, she has traveled extensively in Europe, East and Southeast Asia, and the United States. Along with travel, she loves to cook and avidly tends to her pepper and herb gardens. You can follow her on Instagram at @combukinha.