Let’s get this straight right off the bat – the name of the restaurant is Fish. with a period. I find that pretty annoying as a writer, but whatever floats their boat – and the good news for summer diners is there are plenty of boats floating right in front of Fish.’s. huge deck. For the purposes of this review (and this reviewer’s sanity) we are going to leave the period off.
Fish opened on Sausalito’s harbor several years ago and closed almost as quickly. Owner Bill Foss indicated that the restaurant needed overhauling, but evidently so did the kitchen – chef/partner Chad Callahan left the operation and, when Fish reopened a couple of months later, Whitney Gaunt was at the helm. Callahan had a name – he worked in the formidable shadow of Julian Serrano at Masa’s, and when Serrano left to open Picasso in the Bellagio Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas, Callahan stepped into the spotlight to rave reviews.
The catch at Fish is their incredible commitment to sustainability, and it shows in their pristine seafood selection – everything is fresh, in season, and OK by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, the bible of sustainability. Fish is also a seafood market, so you can take some of that fresh sustainability home. Next door to the restaurant, they have opened an outpost of their organization, FOCB (Fish or Cut Bait, www.focb.org), dedicated to separating fiction from fact in the world of sustainability. Currently, there is a presentation about their pledge to buy only wild salmon when it’s available, since farmed salmon “plunder the marine food webs, release waste, and allow non-native species into the West Coast ecosystem.”
The menu at fish changes daily (based on what’s in season or on the line), and a chalkboard behind the counter touts handwritten specials. The inside is reminiscent of a shinier New England seafood shack and includes a few tables and a fireplace, but the place to be, weather permitting, is the deck.
Perched on the water before bobbing boats and a gorgeous view across the bay, the large deck full of picnic benches seats more people than the inside. Once you order your food at the counter (cash only), you take a number to your table and when your food is ready, a server brings it to you. Unfortunately, that’s the last you’ll see of your server. On one breezy visit, my napkin blew away and I couldn’t find anyone to bring me another, so I had to leave my lunch to go back inside and ask for another. My only real beef with Fish is that the prices are too high for a place where you do most of the work.
I was impressed with their white chowder ($5 cup/$8 bowl), which has a traditional New England milk broth base and is brimming with briny, generous chunks of surf clam, potatoes, onion, celery, a dried herb blend, and smoky bacon. The Portuguese red chowder ($5 cup/$8 bowl) is also well done, made with tomatoes, fresh linguica (smoked, Portuguese sausage made from coarsely ground pork butt), clams, Madeira, and paprika and topped with organic Sausalito Springs watercress.
The fish and chips ($22) are done the way I like them, too – dipped in beer batter (Anchor Steam) and fried crunchy, golden brown. The batter is thin enough so it’s not doughy (a pet peeve). I realize that halibut is local and sustainable and Atlantic cod tops the “Avoid” list on the Seafood Watch Card, but I just can’t get used to halibut fish and chips – it’s lean and dense with a steak-like texture, whereas cod is light, flaky and much moister. Longline Alaskan Pacific cod is on the best choice list along with halibut, as is wild pollock, two varieties that work better as substitutes (in fact, in New England, you will often see pollock used for fish and chips). You can also get cornmeal-crusted local Miyagi oysters (a small-to-medium-sized meaty variety from British Columbia), which you can never go wrong with ($16).
You also can’t go wrong with the BBQ oysters (3 for $9, 6 for $18, 13 for $36) or the selection on the half shell (prices vary), though the huge price tag is certainly a deterrent. On one of our visits, three Hog Island sweetwaters and three Kumamotos set us back 18 bucks. I call Kumamotos “starter oysters” because they are small and creamy – a good choice for someone who’s not an oyster aficionado – but these were so small you could barely see them in the tiny, cupped shell. Sweetwaters – farmed in the traditional French rack and bag method – are one of my all-time favorites. They are plump and a bit saltier, which I like, and have a rich almost smoky flavor. The “only eat oysters in an ‘R’ month” rule has never applied in modern times: it originated before we had refrigeration and oysters would spoil in the warm months. Eating oysters is now dictated by availability alone, though oysters spawn in June, which makes them smaller (hence our itty-bitty Kumamotos).
Pasta con vongole ($22) was classically prepared using house-made organic linguini with fresh clams, extra virgin olive oil, white wine, parsley, and garlic. It comes in an enormous bowl (easily enough for two people), and they’re not stingy with the clams. My only complaint is that the pasta was a bit mushy – I don’t use homemade pasta for my vongole because it’s too delicate; I prefer dry spaghetti, which holds up to the clamshells better.
Wood-fired ahi tuna ($22) was flavorful but overcooked, rendering it less juicy and tender. It sat on a bed of aglio e olio (pasta with olive oil, garlic, parsley, and red pepper flakes). In this comforting preparation, the house-made pasta shined. While it’s only four ingredients, aglio e olio is actually quite easy to ruin – it’s tough to get the balance perfect – but Fish does a nice job.
While prices at Fish are high, their portions are generous, including Dungeness crab Louie ($25) on a bed of iceberg lettuce with a hard-boiled egg and lemon wedges, topped with the traditional tangy dressing. I prefer a bit more on a Louie – black olives, beets, a few more eggs, even some avocado – but the ultra-simple presentation was forgotten as I dug into the sweet mound of leg and body meat. You can also get the Louie with bay shrimp for $18. My cat, Steven, didn’t even like bay shrimp, and it mystifies me why restaurants continue to serve the mushy little creatures.
There are a few standout sandwiches as well, including the Saigon ($22), grilled, marinated wild salmon served Vietnamese style with carrot, jalapeno and cilantro in a ginger-scallion sauce atop an Acme torpedo roll. The crab roll ($25), Fish’s rendition of the now ubiquitous New England lobster roll with Dungeness piled into a toasted Acme torpedo bun, is addictive, drenched in creamy, rich organic butter and chives. Also good is the classic po’boy ($17), featuring either cornmeal-crusted oysters or Louisiana catfish with sliced ham, shredded lettuce, and house-made rémoulade. The ham may sound strange with oysters and catfish, but it works, adding a nice saltiness to the mix.
Desserts ($5/$6) include the usual suspects: carrot cake, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, Kemper’s root beer float, affogato (hot espresso over vanilla ice cream). Like everything else at Fish, they’re made with top quality, fresh ingredients, and all will satisfy that end-of-the-meal “something sweet” craving.
The small wine list (five whites, six reds, three sparkling) ranges from $7 to $10 a glass, with bottles going for $28 to $34 (the two sparkling are $40 and $49, with a split offered at $15). Most are local and organic.
The food at Fish is pricy but quite good. The lack of service and “cash only” policy can be frustrating, but once you hit the deck, all is forgotten. Lunch for two – $128. A sunny deck with a view that also happens to be super dog friendly – priceless.
Fish.: 350 Harbor Drive, Sausalito, 415-331-FISH (3474), www.331fish.com; daily 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., 9 p.m. during the summer (limited food from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.); reservations not accepted.
Gussied up New England seafood shack meets Jacques Cousteau “save our seas” sensibility.
They bring your food; you’re on your own from there.
Can be a bit loud inside when it’s crowded, but the deck is a fine place to hold a conversation or hear yourself think.
Leave your Mini Maglite at home – you order at the counter and you don’t have to do any reading after that.
White and red chowders, crab Louie, crab roll, Saigon sandwich, BBQ oysters (if you can swallow the price tag along with them).
WHAT THE DIAMONDS MEAN
Ratings range from zero to four diamonds and reflect food, atmosphere and service, taking price range and style of the restaurant into consideration.
OUR REVIEW POLICY
We conduct multiple visits anonymously and pay our own tab.