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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

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 bar also features Gustoso rum in its Kiwi-jito, made with fresh kiwi puree, mint and lime juice.

When I visited in March, the cocktails were slow to get from the bar to the dining table, “but we’re working on that,” Terashima said, noting they were in the process of hiring more bartenders.

For dinner, the portions were generous, especially given the prices, and food was consistently satisfying: The lobster roll, as good as what you’d find at a New England shack, and sticky ribs go perfectly with the beers on tap and the sports on the TVs throughout the place.

The ahi poke (pronounced “po-kay”) didn’t quite live up to the raw fish salads at Pono Market on Kauai’s east side, but it’s not fair to expect a Sonoma restaurant to meet that standard.

A dish called Chef’s 2-Day Curry was superb: this Japanese yellow curry with seasonal veggies and fresh salmon alone is worth a trip to The Reel – as are the sticky ribs.

On most Friday and Saturday nights, local bands take the stage at The Reel. Dinner segues seamlessly into music and dancing with upcoming bands such as Loosely Covered and Rubber Soul, a Beatles tribute band.

Typically bands start at 7:30 or 8 p.m. and play a first set as background for the dinner service. For the second set around 9 p.m., the restaurant may clear some tables to create a dance floor, and the tempo picks up.

But food remains the priority, Terashima said. “We want to be a dinner spot first and a (music) venue second. And I think we’ve been doing a very good job of it.”

When Rossi’s closed last fall, Young said in a statement that it had “been a great experience, but it was time to bring on a local partner to keep this historic location going for the long haul.”

He’s found those partners in the Terashimas, and The Reel appears built to last.

Located in the El Verano area, the roadhouse is a couple of miles from Sonoma Plaza and doesn’t have to cater to tourists to survive.

“My focus is on the locals, 100 percent,” Aiki Terashima said. “And the locals are loving it — that’s why we’ve been so busy since we opened in January.”

Michael Shapiro writes about travel, music and food. He is author of “A Sense of Place,” a collection of interviews with the world’s leading travel writers. Contact: www.michaelshapiro.net.

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