By Vickie Lewis
One of the benefits of living in the San Francisco Bay Area is that the area resplendent with water views from so many vantage points. Some of my favorite dining experiences have been at restaurants in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Sausalito that offer beautiful views overlooking the bay waters. Dining at locations with water views seems to bring a feeling of tranquility that adds to the enjoyment of the dining experience. If you also enjoy dining at restaurants overlooking the water, you must visit The Dead Fish, a fine dining establishment located on San Pablo Avenue in Crockett, overlooking the Carquinez Strait and bridge.
While an eatery named “The Dead Fish” may not sound appealing to some, the name is derived from a heartwarming story shared by a former chef, Andrea Froncillo, about watching his Italian Nonna (grandma) cook fish when he was growing up as young boy in Italy. The Dead Fish opened in 2001 at the former location of Vera’s Villa Valona family-style Italian restaurant. The menu features a plentiful selection of seafood and fish options, and is also known for its top-quality Prime Rib, pastas, and a variety of other non-seafood creations. The Dead Fish also has a full bar and features an extensive list of fine wines and spirits to accompany any meal.
Located just off the I-80 freeway, The Dead Fish is easily accessible and features large parking areas on both sides of the restaurant. However, during peak periods, patrons may have to park along adjacent streets and walk across to the restaurant. Although it isn’t immediately apparent from the outside, the restaurant accommodates up to 400 guests at maximum capacity! To the left of the entrance of the restaurant, there is a large lounge area that features open seating and has a water view. The lounge has the perfect atmosphere for indulging in a cocktail or glass of wine and perhaps some appetizers; however, customers may also enjoy full meals in the lounge. There are two main dining rooms, the first of which is located on the same side of the restaurant as the lounge, also affording beautiful water and bridge views. This dining room includes a separate banquet area, The Nemo Room, which accommodates approximately 12 guests, and is colorfully and festively decorated with a seafaring pirate theme.
The other main dining room sits on the opposite side of the restaurant to the right of the entryway. It is named the Vera Room, commemorating the former restaurant at this location. While this room does not offer water views, it is a very elegant dining area with numerous large leather booths and a long table to accommodate larger parties. It also has a cozy fireplace which adds to the ambience of the room and the nautical décor throughout. Just behind the Vera Room is a unique dining area where upon request, customers can enjoy private dining experiences for no extra charge. This area affords guest table seating that can be totally separated by partitions, allowing diners to enjoy their meals and conversation without interruption from those at adjacent tables. (Hint: This may be a perfect consideration for a romantic Valentine’s dinner with your sweetheart!) Moving outside of the restaurant, there is also a large patio area for guest dining. The entire area is heated or cooled depending on the weather, is enhanced by ambient lighting, and customers enjoy serene and beautiful views, particularly when the weather is very nice. The patio also has several individually heated or cooled cabanas which provide additional private dining opportunities. Although I had visited The Dead Fish a couple of times previously, I’d only sat in the main dining room and did not realize how large this restaurant is! The decor throughout the rooms is nautically themed, supplemented by what seemed like hundreds of framed photographs on the walls. There did not appear to be a theme to the photographs, but I was told that not one of them is a duplicate of another! I’m sure many of these serve as great conversation starters! The restaurant is elegant, yet casual. It is suitable for an elegant night out on the town, yet customers are also welcome to enjoy their meals in casual attire.
Even if you’ve had lunch or dinner at The Dead Fish before, you may not be aware that they also serve brunch every Saturday and Sunday and holiday Mondays from 11:00 – 3:00. A separate brunch menu is available during these times, although customers are still free to order any items from the main menu. The brunch menu is somewhat limited, but affords enough variety to please most appetites. All brunch entrees are priced at $13.99 and are very hearty portions. Available entrees include: “Too” Eggs Any Style, served with Applewood Smoked Bacon & Sliced Coteghino Sausage, and potatoes; Italian Momlettes, served with potatoes and raw milk white cheddar cheese; Copper Pan Cakes served with real maple syrup and butter and your choice of several add-ins; and several items from “Nonna’s Pantry”. (Note: Brunch entrees made with Crab have an additional upcharge as noted on the menu.)
My guest and I arrived at The Dead Fish for brunch at noon on a bright and sunny Saturday morning. I was immediately surprised to find that both parking lots were almost completely full! We admired the clear view of the Carquinez strait and bridge as we exited the car and made our way to the restaurant entrance. We were immediately greeted at the hostess station and soon were seated in a large, comfortable booth in the main dining room with the large windows overlooking the water. The dining room was full and buzzing with the conversation of happy customers enjoying their food and drinks. Sizzling trays of shellfish adorned some tables, while other customers were indulging in many of the other delightful menu items available at The Dead Fish. Our waitress, Nicci, greeted us promptly and brought us water and fresh sourdough bread to enjoy as we perused the menu. In keeping with the seafood and nautical theme of the restaurant, the bread appeared to be four rolls baked together in the shape of either seaweed or coral. The first page of The Dead Fish menu features a list of their specialty cocktails, as well as available wines, draft and bottled beers, and non-alcoholic beverages. The cocktails (“Drink-Like-A-Fish Cocktails”) all had catchy fish-themed names which made us chuckle as we pondered the choices. I ordered a “Fish Breath”, made with rum, pineapple and coconut cream, and tasted like a Pina Colada. My guest ordered a “Crabby Mood Martini”, made with vodka, peach schnapps, and orange and cranberry juices. She commented that her drink was strong but had a very good flavor. As we sipped our cocktails, we scanned the main menu, and marveled at the many wonderful selections available; for example, Sizzling Iron Skillet Roasted shrimp, crab, and shellfish; a variety of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes; fresh fish, prime rib, and much more! We decided to order the fried artichoke appetizer to go with our brunch, then turned our attention to the back of the menu to review the brunch entrée selections. When Nicci came to take our order, she explained how the brunch entrees we’d chosen may differ from what we might expect. I’d ordered the Italian Sausage Momlette, which Nicci explained would be prepared like a Frittata or a “scramble”, rather than a traditional omelet, and would be served in a cast iron skillet. My guest ordered the Chocolate Chip Pan Cakes with caramelized walnuts. We were told that rather than a stack of pancakes, my guest would be served one large pan cake, also in a cast iron skillet.
The fried artichokes were delivered to the table promptly and we were pleasantly surprised at the generous portion we received. They were served with a delicious creamy dipping sauce that was a perfect accompaniment to the crunchy appetizer. The breading and artichokes had fresh, citrusy flavor, and we very good. We were still fiNiccing the last of these when our brunch entrees were served.
My Momlette was a beautifully presented egg creation served in an oval skillet. It was crispy golden brown around the edges, had plentiful pieces of bacon and green onion visibly baked in, and was topped with melted white cheddar cheese. There was an option to have the potatoes baked into the Momlette, but I had requested that they be served on the side. These were whole roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, served with several slices of yam, pearl onions, and olives served in an oval ceramic bowl. It was an interesting combination that I’d not had before, but was none-the-less enjoyable.
My guest’s pan cake was a fluffy, golden brown cake served in an oval cast iron pan and accompanied by small portion cup of maple syrup. When she began to cut into it, she noticed that there did not seem to be any chocolate chips or walnuts baked into the cake. She alerted our server, who said that the wrong pan cake that had been delivered to our table, and promptly took it away to get a chocolate chip pan cake. While waiting for the replacement, our contact for the review, general manager, Sharin Mendelson, visited our table to apologize for the order mistake. She presented my guest with a complimentary order of Fresh Fruit to enjoy while waiting for her order. The fruit medley was served in a frosty chilled large glass goblet filled with colorful grapes, melons, berries and pineapple. It was a wonderful treat! When my guest’s chocolate chip pan cake was delivered to the table, this time there were plentiful bits of chocolaty bits visibly baked into the surface of the large golden-brown cake.
Suffice to say that we were both feeling full even before we began to eat our entrees, having already eaten bread, fried artichokes, and most of the chilled fruit. Still, we forged ahead, determined to enjoy at least part of our delicious-looking meals! My Momlette tasted quite excellent. The fluffy egg and cheese creation included plentiful pieces of what tasted like smoked bacon and onion bits. The sliced sausage in the Momlette was delicious; however, there seemed to be more bacon than sausage baked into the dish. The combination of ingredients was very rich, and I had to stop eating about half-way through. Similarly, my guest only also enjoyed only half of her fluffy pan chocolate chip pancake with walnuts. Despite our fullness, when Nicci tempted us with the “Sweet Delights” dessert menu, we decided to split the Torta Della Nonna Lemon Tart Cake. It was scrumptious and light and had an exceptional lemony taste—the perfect end to a perfect meal. Our overall brunch dining experience was pleasant and enjoyable, and we found the food to be quite delicious.
Following our meal, we had the opportunity to visit with Sharin, who has been the general manager at The Dead Fish for almost one year. She has a long career in the food services industry and has been a restaurant manager for the last ten years. Sharin informed us that The Dead Fish is best known for their Crab and Prime Rib. The restaurant offers several crab entrees, including Crab Enchiladas, Crab Alfredo, Crabwich Melt, Crab Louie salad, and Crab Benedict. They also serve whole or half Dungeness Crab roasted in their own secret garlic sauce. We saw many guests on the day of our visit indulging in the famous Dead Fish crab, complete with complimentary bibs provided by the restaurant. The prime rib is slow-roasted Omaha packers’ certified angus beef, cooked medium rare and served with seasoned mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. Three different portion sizes are available—lite cut, large cut, and the slab. The slab is a 24 ounce thickly cut slab of meat, suitable for sharing, although Sharin said she has seen a few customers who have eaten it solo! Sharin said that The Dead Fish also gets high kudos for the popular Kettle Baked Chicken, as well as the house made Seafood Cioppino.
The restaurant is very popular with locals and out-of-town guests, and tends to get very busy, particularly on weekends and holidays. Reservations are highly recommended. The restaurant can accommodate large parties up to 75 guests Mondays through Thursdays with advance notice; however, banquets are not offered on Fridays and Saturdays. Several special banquet menus are available from which to choose, all meals are served plated (not buffet.).
At the end of our visit, Sharin gave me and my guest the grand tour of The Dead Fish, which gave us the visibility into the many different dining areas described above. Sharon continues to come up with new ideas to enhance customers’ dining experiences, and seems to be passionate about providing the highest quality customer service, and of course, excellent food that will keep customers coming back again and again!
The Dead Fish is one of a group of restaurants owned by partners Dante Serafini and Jerry Dal Bozzo. Some of the other well-known restaurants that are part of the “family” include The Crab House at Pier 39; Franciscan Crab Restaurant in San Francisco; The Stinking Rose in San Francisco and Beverly Hills; Osso’s Steakhouse; and Calzone’s Restaurant. Based on our recent dining experience, I would highly recommend a visit to The Dead Fish, particularly for a Saturday or Sunday Brunch. What better way to start your weekend with a wonderful meal, spectacular views, and wonderful personalized service? Remember to make reservations ahead of time to ensure that your table is waiting for you when you arrive. And if you’re planning to visit The Dead Fish for an intimate Valentine’s Day dinner, don’t forget to reserve your private dining area or cabana ahead of time!
20050 San Pablo Avenue, Crockett | (510) 787-DEAD (3323) | thedeadfish.com
Open 365 Days A Year | Open 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM (Sun-Thu) | Open 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM (Fri – Sat)