It was a 9-inch catfish weighing no more than a pound and a half. Perfect eating size. I brought it home in a burlap sack, figuring the creature would be dead by the time I got home. I left the sack in the kitchen sink and went to the bathroom to clean up. When I returned, I discovered the thing swimming in the sink, which my roommate had filled with water in a misguided attempt to save the catfish’s life.
I reached for the Ginzu knife on the sideboard and began feverishly stabbing the tiny cat in the head as my roommate, eyes averted, sobbed in the background.
“Is it over yet?” she moaned.
“Oh, it’s over,” I replied, bearing down on the knife as I sawed off the catfish’s head. She thought I meant it really was over, and turned around just as I lopped the head off. It dropped into the sink with a hollow thud. My roommate fainted. When she came to, I knew I was going to have to make it up to her. So, in a fit of inspired irony, I offered to take her to the Dead Fish.
Before I go any further, understand that the Dead Fish lies slightly outside of Sacramento’s orbit, in Crockett, the small town that lies on the southern end of the Interstate 80 Carquinez Strait bridge. Take the first exit after you cross the bridge, turn right toward the Bay, and you can’t miss it. (If you see the C&H sugar plant, you went the wrong way.)
There are basically three reasons to go to the Fish. One, you don’t have to kill your own food. Two, the expansive view of San Pablo Bay from the Dead Fish’s cozy booths is breathtaking. Three, the food and the atmosphere are enough of a departure from the average upscale seafood restaurant to warrant further investigation.
If Oz had a sister city, it might look something like the interior of the Dead Fish. Call it the Ruby City. The bar is lit up like a pink neon pipe organ. The service—as long as the place isn’t swamped, which it usually is on Friday and Saturday nights (reservations are a must)—is quick, courteous and friendly.
Prices at the Dead Fish can be a little misleading. For instance, main attractions such as Killer Crab ($32.95) and Dead Fish Stew ($ 21.95) and the Slab ($32.95) all exceed $20. A little pricey, but the portions on these dishes are large enough to serve two, even three people. The two-pound whole Dungeness crab, roasted in garlic sauce in a cast-iron skillet at tableside, will bring smiles to the faces of those raised in the Chesapeake Bay area. If the Slab—a 2-inch-thick slice of prime rib that the menu says “scares women and children”—doesn’t clog your colon, nothing will.
The secret to getting out of the Dead Fish with enough money left over for that San Francisco shopping spree is the appetizer list. The iron skillet mussels ($9.95) feature a mound of tender mollusks pan-seared in garlic and butter. My roommate, still suffering somewhat from witnessing the death scene mentioned above, chose a soothing cup of crab chowder ($3.95). It was creamy smooth, and, like all the crab dishes at the Dead Fish, contained a generous helping of crab meat.
Marinated balsamic asparagus ($4.95) featured young, tender stalks of asparagus cooked al dente and drizzled with a wonderful balsamic reduction sauce. My particular favorite appetizer was crispy duck leg confit, one of the largest duck legs I’ve ever seen, with salty, crispy skin and meat that shredded easily off the bone with a fork.
For dessert, we selected tiramisu with raspberry-mango coulis, a near perfect combination of cake and cream topped with sweet, tangy sauce. By the time we finished it, my roommate was looking like her old, perky self. I have the Dead Fish to thank for that.