The Dead FishBy Larry Sheingold –

Scene-setting: We’re in Walnut Creek, 30 minutes east of San Francisco. Meeting old friends. The “haven’t-seen-in-50-years” kind. The unforgettable 8th grade teacher who got you off to the right start in life. The one who still remembers your name all these decades later.

The Challenge: Trouble is, we’ve never eaten anywhere near here. Never pre-cleared any venues for suitability. In fact, we’re not even sure what suitability is in this case. Can’t ask the teacher and his wife for suggestions. They live in Connecticut.

So here’s our wish list. Good food. Informal but not divey or stuffy. Quiet enough to talk. Calm enough to let us occupy a table after the eating is done. View of the ocean would be nice. Good range of menu choices. Something “California.” In short, no fear of the dreaded not-what-I-was-hoping-for reaction to the entrées.

So, where to go for our reunion lunch? San Francisco? Too complicated. Stay in Walnut Creek? Maybe. Willie McCovey’s joint was recommended. Burgers and ribs. Maybe too loud? Too informal? Plus, Mr. Hubbard is an east coaster. Not likely to be a fan of McCovey or the Hall of Famer’s San Francisco Giants.

There’s also the Walnut Creek Yacht Club. Sounds cool and refreshing. Great seafood menu. But there’s a catch (so to speak). No yachts. Not surprising, since Walnut Creek is suspiciously lacking in actual creeks, much less a body of water suitable for sailing. A landlocked yacht club seems a little dicey for the occasion.

The Answer: Here’s my advice. Luck out. Get a recommendation from someone you trust. Do the web search on it. Grain of salt for the blogs and the “voice-of-the-people” amateur online reviewers. Check the restaurant site and menu. Photos of the food served there.

Then cross your fingers. (It has been known to help). And presto. Here we are at a place with an unlikely name in an unlikely setting. And it’s perfect.

The Dead Fish

Seekers of good food and a place to bring any out-of-town guests (who don’t mind a drive), welcome to the Dead Fish in Crockett. It’s 20 miles north of Walnut Creek, just off Highway 80 – the main route between Sacramento and San Francisco.

Before we get to the lunch part, a word about what The Dead Fish isn’t.

The view is not Nepenthe’s, the Big Sur restaurant looking out over 100 miles of the most gorgeous coastal scenery in the universe. The menu is not Waterbar, the fabulous sustainable seafood restaurant almost directly under the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, which names the boat and boat captain responsible for the fresh fish you are about to eat.

But if you want a little taste of both, The Dead Fish is the place.

First the view. Much as Waterbar has panoramic views of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline, The Dead Fish is on a bluff directly across from the Carquinez Bridge with stunning scenery all its own – the bridge and San Pablo Bay.

The restaurant itself. Refined but casual. Just the ticket for first-timers and regulars. Tables lining a big picture window. Décor that features nautical touches and models of masted schooners.   The specialties are as California as it gets. The star at our table was local Dungeness crab. We had ours as part of a Dead Fish stew — a tomato-broth-based bowl of crab, mussels, calamari and fish. It comes in three portion sizes. The small is huge.

We passed on the whole roasted crab, one of their featured dishes, to try other options. Salmon prepared with a pepper and onion sauce. Basa, a delicate, mild, white fish filet, with a spicy tomato-olive sauce. A great-looking Crab Louie.

Ideal meal in ideal setting to spend a couple hours talking about the intervening five decades. The service was excellent. And patient. Servers seemed accustomed to business lunchers and day trippers enjoying the food and sights for longer than a normally-allotted dining hour.

And what we can’t say about many first-time restaurant excursions – we would come back. Perhaps for the prime rib, seafood tureens, or sizzling iron skillet-roasted mussels, crab or shrimp.

Last Thought: It doesn’t always work. What you see on TV may not be what you find at the restaurant. Many blogs have their own biases. Friends’ recommendations are helpful but not everyone’s taste is the same and some restaurants have good and bad days.

I guess that’s why you have sites like We don’t do negative. And when we find something we like, we pass it on. So that first-time experiences don’t have to be last-time experiences.

In this case, for the combo of food, view and time to visit, everyone in our party was happy. We and Mr. Hubbard would gladly go back to The Dead Fish, as long as it doesn’t take another 50 years to get there.

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