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First Look: Santa Rosa Seafood Raw Bar and Grill

Blackened ahi tuna with sesame slaw. (Heather Irwin/The Press Democrat)

HEATHER IRWIN , THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Mike Svedise has some pretty big fish to fry.

Inside the walk-in refrigerator of his retail seafood operation in Santa Rosa, there’s a cod the size of Alabama . The fisherman who brought it from the Bay that morning is still standing outside, next to the fish smokers, watching the rest of his catch come off the truck.

By lunchtime, that giant cod and the rest of the morning’s haul will be on someone’s plate at Svedise’s restaurant next door. Fried or otherwise.

The longtime owner of Santa Rosa Seafood and the recently-opened Santa Rosa Seafood Raw Bar and Grill, Svedise has salt water in his veins and sourdough in his soul. Born and raised in San Francisco’s North Beach to an extended family of Italian fishermen, he knows his way around fish, oysters, clams, squid and pretty much anything else that swims or crawls in the sea.

And with his expanding seafood store and long-awaited restaurant occupying the same building, the trip from ocean to your fork doesn’t get much shorter.

Fish On!

The life of a fishmonger moves fast, because seafood waits for no man.

Starting at 3 a.m., Svedise starts taking orders, managing a small fleet of fishing boats, checking the catch of the day along the North Coast, sending a truckload of crushed ice and seafood to farm markets, and opening his Santa Rosa fish market and restaurant with the help of wife, Trudy, and kids Anna, Salvatore, Joe, and Nicholas.

You don’t sell nearly 100 kinds of fish and shellfish five days a week without a whole lot of support, he said.

By 10 a.m., with his cellphone ringing incessantly, Svedise has already had a fairly full day. But in a self-imposed moment of quiet, he pulls up a chair to the stainless steel table at the restaurant and points to the family photos lining the walls of the Santa Rosa Avenue eatery, all of which include some kind of fishing boat.

You kind of expect him to whip out a pipe and a yellow fishing cap and spin a salty yarn about his uncles’ long-ago seafood operation. Interestingly enough, that operation was at Fisherman’s Wharf, at what is now Scoma’s restaurant along the pier.

“I’ve been fishing all my life,” Svedise said. “I used to hide in my uncles’ boat and cut school to go fishing, and I haven’t stopped going out on boats for crab and salmon since 1976.”

Then the phone rings again, prep chefs need his credit card, the restaurant manager begins the process of opening the restaurant, and someone walks in the front door asking a question. It’s time to get back to work.

Catch of the Day

Svedise is no stranger to the restaurant business , having owned the popular Baby Sal’s Seafood Grill in Marin for years.

“We had lines out the door,” he said.

Less than a month into service, Santa Rosa Seafood Raw Bar and Grill also has been packed, despite a hushed opening after more than a year of permitting delays.

It’s open for lunch and dinner, with a menu that is impressive but not overly flashy, the focus firmly on the catch of the moment. Chef Jeremy Utterback (formerly of K&L Bistro) put together a menu that includes everything from classic cioppino to scallops with a plum reduction, all of them showcasing the seafood rather than the technique.

And while you can’t go wrong with whatever the special of the day is, here are some favorites you won’t want to miss:

Fish Tacos ($10): You haven’t had fish tacos until you’ve had these. The fish changes up based on the catch, but instead of being fried within an inch of its life, the delicate whitefish is adorned only with pico de gallo, cabbage and a chipotle aioli.

Fish and Chips (2 pieces, $14; 3 pieces, $17): These are the fish and chips you wish you got at the coast, but rarely do. Beer batter dipped and fried, you can actually taste the cod rather than just the breading. Crunchy outside, moist inside and a kid-pleaser atop a mound of Kennebec fries.

Ahi tuna poke ($14): Raw sushi-grade tuna, rice, avocado, sesame oil. Mix, eat and cry a little as you think of Hawaiian beaches. Treat yourself to a side of wakame (seasoned seaweed, $7) for the full experience.

Blackened Ahi ($22): Ruby red tuna gets a quick sear, a side of carrot, cucumber and scallion with ginger vinaigrette, and a light paint of creamy sriracha across the plate.

Seafood Cioppino ($24): Seasonal fish, shrimp, mussels and calamari in a rich red sauce is the essence of Little Italy. Add-ons like lobster depend on what’s in season.

Petrale Sole Piccata ($24): One of the most popular dishes on the menu, this simple sole dish is sautéed with a tangy lemon, butter and wine sauce and is perfection on a plate.

Other dishes include grilled swordfish ($20), miso halibut ($26), North Beach style Linguine with clams ($17) and scallops with butternut squash risotto ($22). A locally-focused beer and wine list is well-matched to the dishes. And if you’re not a seafood fan? Grilled cheese and fries are available.

We know you’ll be hooked at first bite.