If there is one thing that getting up before dawn, hardly having any breakfast and then walking around the San Francisco Botanical Garden for almost five hours will do to you is make you hungry.
It was almost 1:30 pm by the time we were crossing the Golden Gate back into Marin and we were ravenous. We decided we could not wait longer and stopped at Salito’s in Sausalito. The previous time we had tried to do this was a Holiday weekend, and the place was impossibly busy.
Salito’s is one of those waterfront restaurants you often find in the San Francisco area. It is located towards the north end of Sausalito, a little outside the main part of town, right on Richardson Bay. A big thing in Sausalito where parking places are pricey and do not abound, the restaurant has its own parking area right in front, as well as a valet service during busy weekends. This was a Thursday, so no valet was needed, but the lot was full minus a spot for us, which was all we needed.
The building, which has been refreshed when it became Salito’s, has been part of Sausalito for quite some time, always as a restaurant. It was called Zach’s in the seventies, then Margaritaville, then, more recently, Paradise Bay.
Inside the decor is colorful and… well, let’s say charming, with a paraphernalia of things hanging on the walls and from the ceilings, including vintage fish cans, cookie tins et such (mostly from Italy, I noticed), bottles of every size, an extra large crab made of the same kind of tin and stating Granchio Arrostito (roasted crab), qualitá scelta (top quality), prodotto italiano (Italian product) among other things.
The ambiance reminds me of some restaurants in the Mediterranean, and the style of the place is casual, though the table tops are marble and the napkins are cloth and not paper.
The dining area is divided in several indoor/outdoor sections, with a spacious deck overlooking the water and well organized with tented cover-ups and sun-powered heaters that can be turned on as needed. On sunny days, even if you are indoor, the folding glass doors are pushed to the side so you can enjoy the breeze. Two bar areas are also available, one indoor, and a covered one on the outdoor terrace.
That day the restaurant was busy, but in a relaxed way, so we were handed menus and encouraged to find our own table wherever we wanted. It was a glorious sunny day, and hot, too, so we chose a spot off to the side, in the shade while still in the open air, perfect both for temperature and light for my pics. Let’s see if you can spot Valerie in the image below. Tip: our friendly server is hanging nearby.
Did I mention the view? The terrace looks out onto the marina with a view of the Belvedere/Tiburon peninsula right in front. The image below is exactly what we were looking at. Talk about a selling point!
Once seated, our server was soon with us, both times. Yes, this post is the result of two visits within a week from each other. There were just the two of us, and there is only so much food two people can eat at one time, even if ravenous.
There is quite a bit to choose from in the menu, though the specialties are obvious even before entering: crab, seafood and prime rib, plus all that goes along with that, including some tempting appetizers. So yes, it is a classic American casual style seafood restaurant. You can view the menu here. Brunch is served on weekends, though I have not yet been to that.
We made our selection, saving room for dessert because Valerie had mentioned their Beignets, which, in my head, I was visualizing as what Italian beignets would be: an eclair filled with custard. But that was not it, you will see.
I saw a fresh looking lemonade going by on a tray, stirring memories of the parsley lemonade at Town’s in Honolulu, so I added that to my order.
The food came super fast, and it was hot and freshly cooked, or prepped, in case of the salad. On our first visit we went for the Crab Louie ($11.95), because the crab is possibly Valerie’s favorite food – after chocolate, that is – and Fish & Potatolitos ($17.95) because we have been looking for a really good fish & chips in the area, and because our server’s face lit up when we said the words, confirming it was a good choice.
The Crab Louie is a popular crab salad I have had many times in various places around Northern California. This one was fresh and had all the usual ingredients, but… it lacked some uhmpfz. First of all, the crab was all shredded and there were no nice big lumps of crabmeat on it, then the olives were those blah ones straight out of the can. It did have some nice yellow and pink boiled beets to liven things up, but it was still not the best Crab Louie either of us had ever had.
The Fish and Potatolitos, however, was DA BOMB! One of the very best fish and chips either Valerie or I had ever had. Perfect, non greasy fried crunch on the outside with a tender, juicy fresh fish fillet on the inside. My mouth still waters at the thought, and I am certainly going back for more. And those potatolitos! They are small potatoes that get partly boiled, then squashed down a bit before getting deep fried. Oohemgee, are those good! I had them once before in another place here in Marin and raved about them, so my eyes lit up when I found out what potatolitos were.
On our second visit, sitting at the exact same table and with the same server – who remembered us – Valerie chose the Crabwich ($16.95), which is a sandwich with Dungeness crab, avocado and Italian salad mix in one of their house-made kettle sourdough bread. I chose the Dungeness Crab Cakes, and the small serving of hot Mussels ($11.95 for the small) you see at the top of the post. We also ordered an extra side of Potatolitos ($6.95) just because they are so good.
The Crab Cakes are sold by the number ($7.95 each) and, after inquiring about their size, I decided on two. They were excellent, with lots of crabmeat inside and, instead of being pan fried – as all previously eaten crab cakes had been – these were deep fried, adding an extra crunch to the moist tenderness of crab inside.
The Crabwich was a cold sandwich, fresh and tasty and very satisfying, with all the flavors blending well together, and the touch of vinegar in the salad mix adding a nice zing. As you can see below, it was also huge, so we took half to go, especially since Valerie discovered how good the bread was when dipped in the melted butter that came with the mussels. I am sure Jack was happy to eat the leftover sandwich for his afternoon snack.
The Mussels were also very good, fresh and simply prepared on a hot iron skillet that was brought sizzling to our table. They came served with melted butter with just a hint of garlic. The mussels were a bit small, as I have seen bigger, but I am putting that down to the season.
Dessert was shared each time. The first time we just had to have the Beignets ($3.95 for 3 + $0.95 for an additional one) because Valerie, who had been to Salito’s before, kept talking about them.
They turned out to be sweet bread dough squares, deep fried (again, just right) and dusted with powder sugar, then served hot with a scoop of fresh whipped cream. Oh-so-good! Hot and puffy, hollow and tender inside, sweet but not too sweet. And before you go there with your taste buds, they were nothing like malasadas at all. They were more like a sweet version of something you get in the Parma province, Northern Italy, called Gnocco Fritto or Torta Fritta (depending on the area), which is basically bread dough, cut into squares or rectangles and deep fried, then eaten with various cold cuts from the area: salame, prosciutto, coppa, spalla cotta etc. That one is seriously good, and I will just have to do a post about it on my next trip, as it is a favorite with just about everyone I know.
These Beignets were seriously good, too, just sweet, since they were a dessert. If you have been following my blog for a while, you will also know that I was very appreciative of the fact that the cream was real fresh whipped cream, no fakes.
On our second visit we wanted to try a different dessert because – though the Beignets had obliterated all notion of any other dessert from our field of vision the first time around – there were some interesting ones on the list. My sense, though, was that the other desserts might not be made in house, so I asked. I was right: the other desserts are made by a bakery in San Francisco. I tried to find out which one, but both our server and another that happened to pass by were unable to name it.
The other desserts on the list were: Tortuga Caribbean Rum Cake, Lemon Torta della Nonna (Grandmother’s Lemon Cake), Chocolate Bomb, Salted Caramel Vanilla Crunch Cake, and Licorice Cheesecake – all at $7.95 each.
We chose to share the Salted Caramel Vanilla Crunch Cake, which turned out to be quite good, with the various layers, flavors and textures nicely sharing space in our mouths. Only that bit of white frosting you see on the left side and a little on the top was too much, but we ate it anyway. The cake was also served with a scoop of fresh whipped cream, and this time the cream seemed to carry a hint of mint. I say seemed because we both tasted it on the first spoonful, but I did not on the second. If it was, it worked.
We did not have any coffee, though I know from the menu that espresso and related drinks are available, so I will have to tell you next time how good the cappuccinos are here. As you may have figured, I rarely drink alcohol, even though I have enjoyed some of the best wines during my restaurant years, and certainly not at lunch or if I have to drive. My body is happier that way, and when the choice comes down to drinks or dessert, dessert will win every time.
So I will talk about wine and cocktails whenever I will actually have them, but here it is not the case.
On our way out I took more pics and spotted this old fashioned scale filled with beautiful oranges. On our second visit it was filled with avocados.
A note about the lemonade that looks so pretty in the photo above: it was obviously ready-made, so I was disappointed by that. The one from Town remains unsurpassed.
The other thing we did on our way out was pay a visit to the restroom, which turned out to be the basic restrooms usually found in older buildings, but well organized and very clean. Hey, that’s important, too!
Where have you had the best fish & chips? Until Salito’s my best one was – believe it or not – in the England section of Disney World in Orlando. By the canal there is this little building with order-and-pick-up windows. You can see the fish and chips being cooked in the back only as you order it, so it is super fresh. At least I hope that is still there, because it has been a while since my last visit. Now I have two favorites.
SALITO’S Crab House & Prime Rib
If you have enjoyed this post, you might also like these other good cafes, restaurants and bakeries in Marin: