It’s about 6 o’clock on a Sunday night at the The Reel Fish Shop and Grill, and already the spacious west Sonoma restaurant is mostly full.
Margaritas with a jalapeño bite are being hoisted by smiling patrons as they peruse a menu with starters including ahi poke ($16), habanero-lemongrass sticky ribs ($12), and cioppino ($5 cup or $8 bowl).
Until last October, this sturdy 111-year-old building near Sonoma Creek was home to Rossi’s 1906, a barbecue joint that never quite took flight. In January it reopened under new management as The Reel Fish Shop and Grill.
A Petaluma native, chef Aiki Terashima (Picazo Cafe) trained for three years under Chef Masaharu Morimoto of Morimoto Napa.
Aiki, 30, and his wife, Hillary Terashima, who manages the restaurant, partnered with former Rossi’s owner Max Young and others, giving the 1906 dance hall a makeover.
Young, now a silent partner, books bands that perform Friday and Saturday nights at the venue. Another partner is Sal Chavez who owns Picazo.
The Reel serves a diverse menu that highlights sustainable seafood at prices they say “everyone can afford.” An outdoor beer garden is shaded by 150-year-old oak trees. And a kids’ play area is on the drawing board.
But ultimately it’s all about the food, especially the fish.
“Everything that I bring into the restaurant I can track back to the fishermen,” said Aiki Terashima in an interview shortly after the restaurant reopened.
“So everything is pull-caught and responsibly sourced whenever we have the opportunity to do that,” he added. “I have a very good fish purveyor that I’ve been working with for about 10 years now, so essentially everything I’ve been bringing in is sustainably sourced.”
That includes 300-pound tuna from the Philippines, lingcod from Norway used for the fish and chips, and wild sea bass from Ecuador, he said.
Anything that needs to be frozen is kept in a blast freezer (colder than conventional freezers) to keep it as fresh as possible, he said.
The lobster roll is a highlight and is made from Canadian crustaceans. “It’s nice sweet meat and wild, too,” he said.
The key to keeping prices low, Terashima said, is slicing the fish on-site. “I don’t buy any pre-portion fillets so I’m able to bring in fish at a lower cost.”
He’s doing all the fish butchering himself, in house. “Without that I’d be paying the fish company to butcher my fish and then the price goes up from $7.50 to $24 a pound.”
The fair prices are just part of what makes The Reel appealing. The roadhouse is a casual place where you don’t have to dress up — jeans and boots fit right in — and can enjoy innovative cocktails, live music and comfort food.
The bar is made from a 28-foot-long plank of polished redwood, and many of the dining tables are redwood slabs. The dining room can easily accommodate large parties.
The drinks have creative twists, such as The Reel’s signature Spicy Mezcalete ($11), with El Jimador tequila, La Luna mezcal, and Cointreau with fresh and muddled lime.
And the bar is stocked with artisanal spirits. The Gran Dovejo tequila is “fantastic,” made by Salvador Chavez, Terashima’s partner at Picazo. “I’m half Japanese and have some Japanese-style whiskeys in here, really high end,” including Ohishi and Toguchi, Terashima said. “I’ve got some beautiful bourbon, small-batch bourbon from San Diego Distillery, one of my favorites.”
THE REEL THING
What: The Reel Fish Shop and Grill
Where: 401 Grove St., Sonoma
When: Open daily except Monday for lunch and dinner. It has a happy hour from 3 to 5:30 p.m., with $1.50 off pints and specialties like fish tacos for $3.
Information: 707-343-0044, www.thereelfishshop.com. Coming up:
Tonight May 5 — Cinco de Mayo Party
Saturday May 6 — Zydeco music with Tri Tip Trio
May 12 — Acoustic roots music Kevin Russell and His So Called May 13 — Pop music with Loosely Covered