Cape Cod Fish N' Chips in Cotati sounds like it might be part of a chain, but it's not. And that makes all the difference, since this locally-owned business pays attention to the details that show up as quality in the food.
The restaurant is a plain storefront in a strip of plain storefronts. Inside, its bare walls of grey and off-white look as though they were decorated by Franz Kafka. A flat-screen TV tuned to sports gives a spot of color.
But as dull as the d?or is, the folks working there are just the opposite. They're friendly, upbeat, helpful and pleasant in a down-home way. The counter person kept calling me "boss man."
When a restaurant has fish and chips in its title, it needs to get that dish -#8212; made famous in a thousand English pubs -#8212; right. I'm happy to report that Cape Cod doesn't disappoint.
If you're dining there with a large party, the menu is priced per piece of cod so you can eat family style. Dinners include cole slaw and chips, or French fries, as we call them here in America. The One Piece Cod Dinner ($7.75 ***?) was surprisingly good and enough for one person unless you're super hungry.
The fish is previously frozen filets of Icelandic cod, which is where Atlantic cod comes from now that the Grand Banks have been fished out. Thawed, dipped in a batter that emerges from its fry bath brown and crunchy, the cod is bone-white and flaky, mild tasting and just cooked through so it's still moist. A tub of tartar sauce sits on the side.
This fish is meant to be eaten either right out of the fryer or as soon as you get it home. Don't think about putting it in the fridge and reheating it tomorrow. After its journey as a frozen slab and its initial cooking, further heating renders its texture mushy and its flavor stale.
The chips appear to be hand cut, like small versions of steak fries. As at a proper British public house, the table holds a bottle of malt vinegar for flavoring the chips, along with ketchup, salt and pepper.
And then you come to the cole slaw. Pin a medal on whoever makes the slaw, because it's perfect. Perfect because the green and red cabbage threads crunch and pop as you chew, letting you know by the sound in your own head bone how fresh they are.
Bits of carrot add flecks of orange. And the sauce rides the knife edge of perfect balance between sweet and sour. While you're there, take home a pint. It's the real deal.
Wine is confined to a glass of "Sonoma County Chardonnay" for $6.50. Go with one of the five beers and ales on tap. A pint of Newcastle red ale is just $3, or choose among Great White, Lagunitas IPA or Racer 5 if a local brew is favored.
The cod dinner is the big draw, but there is much else on the menu. The Fish Taco ($6.95 ***) comes on a big flour tortilla stuffed with a piece of saut?d cod, cheddar cheese, that good cole slaw, freshly made salsa and a wedge of lemon to add some citrusy zing.
Onion Rings ($4.95 **) had the virtue of being house made, and you get a lot of them, but they are too greasy. A cup of New England Clam Chowder ($3.95 **) was woefully short of clams, and it showed in the relatively bland (except for salt) flavor. To its credit, it came with a packet of Westminster Bakers Co. oyster crackers, the actual favorite cracker that New Englanders cast into their chowdah.