The Buzz About the Dead Fish
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.
"My sixth anniversary is just a week away, and my wife wants to take a trip to a waterside paradise to celebrate. Not to worry—we don’t even have to leave Contra Costa to get our coastal groove on. We’re going to have dinner and drinks at The Dead Fish.
We first went to this perchedon-a-cliff restaurant, with itsmouthwatering food and its jawdropping view, when we were still in the just-friends stage of courtship. The calamari appetizers and crab enchilada helped kick-start the relationship into the romantic phase. (The Bloody Shark—the restaurant’s tangy take on a Bloody Mary—also helped.)
Here’s the ultimate inside tip for a cozy romantic dinner: Ask for one of the private heated booths on the restaurant’s patio: You can gaze at the beautiful views the San Pablo Bay and Carquinez Strait, or you can close the curtain for privacy and gaze into each others’ eyes.
Waiter, another Bloody Shark, please." —P.C.
Customer email - "Oh, my! My wife and I live on the south west coast of Florida and were headed to Lake Tahoe on vacation. We stopped at The Dead Fish on our way from San Francisco to Tahoe for a meal - and we are still stunned.
In fact, we're changing our travel plans so we are able to have one more meal at The Dead Fish on our way back to Florida. We'll leave Tahoe one day early, book a hotel close to your restaurant and take in a meal on our way back to Bradenton, FL.
Franchise ... franchise ... franchise!!! I am able to tell you as a resident of Florida for over 20 years ... no place we have ever been in FL can match what we experienced this week at The Dead Fish. Want a Florida partner? ... let me know! INCREDIBLE ..."
Customer email - "I was traveling for work and was told about your restaurant - what a wonderful treat! I had a bad trip for various reasons, late flights and on and on... finding your place was like finding the pot of gold! You really need to come open one in AZ! I have made sure I told anyone and everyone to come to your places in CA! Thank you for the BEST dinner i have had in years!"
Cherry Blossom Kisses blog -
"My family and I have been dining at this restaurant for years now and that's usually a good sign that they must be doing something right... Great location, perfect view, exceptional service, and of course, yummy food. Good eats."
Customer email - "Last night was our first time at your restaurant. We had a window table by the water which was beautiful. The food was absolutely delicious! We will definitely be coming back and have already let our friends know about it. We were celebrating our Anniversary and had a wonderful time. Thank you."
Customer email - "A friend of mine took me to The Dead Fish last night for my birthday dinner. I had heard so much about the restaurant and was excited to finally have the chance to eat there. Everything was wonderful. The atmosphere and view spectacular. I came to work and told everyone about my experience. I usually do not comment about a meal but I want to recommend The Dead Fish to others. Thank you for a delightful experience and birthday celebration."
Customer email - "We had lunch with you on Sunday. Drove from Pleasanton on a recommendation. We were not disappointed. The lunch was delicious and the presentation was wonderful. What a unique hideaway you have --- just beautiful!"
Customer email - "My husband of almost 20 years and I went to The Dead Fish for dinner on February 1, 2006 and I have to say it is the best restaurant I've ever eaten in. I love The Dead Fish. We loved the view. I ordered the Seafood Colossal and the Dead Fish Stew and my husband ordered prime rib, pasta and crab lui for appetiser. We pass it by all the time, always driving miles and miles to get to the bay area for some great seafood and now we just drive 20 minutes and we're there. I can't believe it took us this long to get there but we will be a frequent client from now on. Thanks to Nonna and the staff. Keep up the great work."
Customer email - "My wife and I went to The Dead Fish today and we were seated at a table with an incredible view of the bridge. The iced tea was perfect and the bread was crunchy outside and wonderfully chewy on the inside. It sure went great with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and chopped garlic. I had the Tilapia and my wife had the Salmon in lemon-butter. Superb! Outstanding! We definately will be back again."
Customer email - "I just had to drop you a little note to say "The Crab" was beyond words-- My husband and daughter stopped by and got a 3 lb. package of your garlic crab and a very good spinach salad and bread. We had such a great time eating and talking - everything was just perfect - THANK YOU - THANK YOU."
CitySearch - "I can die happy now - I went here for the first time on Thanksgiving of this year (2004), and what a FANTASTIC choice it was. I was in hog-heaven, eating some of the most DELICIOUS, amazing food I've ever had. The bruschetta was TO DIE for! The calamari was also quite good, and the salmon with the lemon-butter sauce was SUPERB. The atmosphere of the restaurant is also great, and the staff was nice and friendly. I give this place a 10 - I will DEFINITELY be coming back here!"
CitySearch - "Excellent! - Recommended by a friend, I was more than pleased with the results. The service was great, our waiter was especially attentive making suggestions for us along the way. From the bread to the entree's, everything was excellent. I was with a large party so there were plenty of different plates on the table. I especially recommend the Lasange-Prawn combination. It's the best of both worlds. The prawns were loaded with garlic essence and the lasagne was reminiscent of my homemade masterpiece. It's a little out of the way as far as location but it would not hinder me from frequenting the restaurant. Prices are comparable to any other upscale restaurant and definitely worth the money."
CitySearch - "The Dead Fish - The Best Prime Rib Ever! The Slab melts in your mouth with every bite and the garlic potatoes were the best!"