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Reviews of the finest restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area by Carol and Joe Davis - the Dining Detectives. From Sushi to Prime Rib, the Detectives dine their way across the spectum of fine food. ©2006 Carol and Joe Davis

Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto Is Sparkling again.

We left Petaluma on a cloudy Thursday evening and before we could say 101 to 580 to 80 we reached University Avenue in Berkeley, the exit for Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto. Spenger’s has been a fixture on 4th St. for 110 years, owned by 4 generations of the Spenger family. They began as fishermen getting fresh fish and seafood from the Pacific Ocean, Lake Merritt and San Francisco Bay and selling to local markets. Frank "Bud" Spenger in his 80’s finally decided to retire about a year ago and closed the restaurant down to the dismay of his loyal clientele. It was a sad day for all.

To the rescue came a white knight from the North, Bill McCormick & Doug Schmick veteran restaurateurs with their restaurant management group that had a knack for updating and preserving Historical Seafood restaurants. The task was to not only preserve and revive the décor but also to update the menu to reflect the changing times. Scott Smith, General Manager has done a great job in the short time that the restaurant has been open again. We’ve been eating at Spenger’s for 20 years (Fried Oyster Sandwich and fries for lunch- clam chowder and fish and chips for dinner) But this is the 21st Century and we were interested to see what had changed since McCormick and Schmick had taken over about six months ago.

First we were pleased to find that the $5,000,000 renovation had spruced this large restaurant up while keeping all the memorabilia in tack. Over 100 years of paintings, ship’s wheels, anchors, antique guns and riggings as well as large mounted fish on the teak walls makes it just like being in a nautical museum.

Secondly, we toured the kitchen and found that it had been totally gutted and a modern up to date kitchen had taken its place. We looked all over the kitchen but were unable to find a freezer for the fish. Oh yes all the fish is Fresh no frozen fish allowed!!!

Thirdly, we found that the main dining area had been changed. A new section had been created with six private booths called "Snugs" for parties of 6 or 8. Larger parties of course can always reserve a banquet room. The Atlantic Pacific Room holds up to 225, and the smaller McCormick and Schmick rooms hold 50-75 each. We had been to a number of functions over the years in the banquet rooms .Two that are memorable come to mind. Our friend Hodee Edwards won two awards during a Bay Area Poetry Awards Dinner.The smile on her proud face was worth a million. Another memorable afternoon we were pleased to be the guests of The Pearl Harbor Survivors Group. Wow, what stories of war and friendship we heard that day.

Spenger’s has always drawn a fun crowd. Such luminaries as Clark Gable, Carol Lombard, Errol Flynn, Ernest Hemingway, Robin Williams, Al Rossi and Tom Hanks have been known to dine at this historic restaurant. So much history, but now its time to move on to the main attraction---THE FOOD.

We were warmly greeted by the friendly hostess and were whisked to one of the "Snugs", which perfectly accommodated our party of six. Shahriar, our waiter was soon taking our drink order and we got down to the matter at hand, choosing our fare for the evening. "Shah" was an excellent waiter who made our evening really delightful. Everything was timed to perfection including our dessert "experience".

Appetizers

Crab and Artichoke Dip- we are happy to report that this was light and tasty- more crab- less dip- Too often this type of dish is too heavy-not here.

Spenger’s Seafood Sampler- made and presented by Scott Gorenstein, Sous Chef. This is a fantastic way to start your meal. Crab, Ahi Tuna, Shrimp, Oysters, smoked salmon, Crawdad’s, we even added a whole Maine lobster. All the seafood was as fresh as we’d ever had. The whole Maine Lobster was the best we had ever tasted. The Ahi was spicy crusted on the outside – a truly great taste- we ordered another side dish later in the meal.

Oysters on the Half Shell
Six different types of oyster each with its special flavor- terrific. We could have made a full meal out of oysters for sure.

Entrees/Seafood Specialties

We must note here that Spenger’s prints two menus a day to reflect which fresh seafood is available. There were over 30 different types of Fresh Seafood on the menu this evening, which is more than we had ever seen anywhere else before. Most are available grilled with lemon butter.

Here are a few of our favorites:

King Salmon-
Roasted on a Cedar Plank with Northwest Berry Sauce. Fresh Fresh Fresh. King Salmon has a taste all its own-and is a treat. We highly recommend this entree.

Halibut-
Oven Roasted with Crab, Bay Shrimp and Brie Cheese- the Halibut had its own juicy nature, which was complimented by the filling. There was more crab and shrimp, less Brie so it was light.

Ahi-
Seared Spicy Rare. Served with Wasabi, Soy and a Sushi Roll- Best of Show. Great meal, highly recommended.

Jumbo Sea Scallops-
Grilled with Roasted Garlic Butter- Sea scallops that are light and tasty are hard to find – These were Delicious

USDA Prime 14 oz. Grilled New York Steak—Steak at Spenger’s?
We enjoyed this entrée. Bring the meat eaters along-they won’t be unhappy.

Desserts

White Chocolate Crème Brulee. - We are very partial to Crème Brulee and this was done to perfection.

Mango Key Lime Tart-One doesn’t see Key Lime Pie very often especially with Mango so we had to try it. Reminded us of Those Hot summer days in Key West.

Banana Toffee Cream Pie-
Layered with pastry cream & sliced bananas- this was heaven. If you love banana cream pie…..This is the absolute best!

Caramel Pecan Pie With whipped cream- A different pie with a Caramel Pecan flavor that is worth every calorie. Nicely combined with the Banana Toffee Cream Pie if you are sharing desserts!

Wines

Spenger’s has both a daily (more modest) wine list and a more exclusive " Captain’s List". The wine list includes some Napa, Sonoma, Oregon and French wines that most wine drinkers would be pleased with. The Captain’s List was comprised of more Vintage wines giving the diner the choices that are needed to please the more discerning palates. Ward Robilliad Wine Buyer has done a good job of appealing to all tastes.

As with all of our dining experiences we started with wines by the glass from the Wine List.

Flora Springs, Napa Valley, 1998 Chardonnay

Spenger’s Choice, Sonoma, 1998 Chardonnay- A house wine has to be both moderately priced and taste good. This fit the bill. Bottled for Spenger’s by River Road Winery in Sonoma.

Eola Hills,Oregon, 1997 Pinot Noir Light, paired well with the King Salmon

We followed with bottles of:

Iron Horse, Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley, 1997. Light-paired well with the appetizers.

E.St John, Rocks and Gravel, A Syrah Blend, California, 1998- full bodied

For the more discerning, the following were available on the Captain’s List this evening.

Graves, Chateau Laville Haut Brion, France 1990

Robert Mondavi, Reserve, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

Champagne, Salon, Epernay, France 1988

Spenger’s has been rejuvenated and is sparkling once again. New Kitchen, Fresh Fish only, Refurbished dining areas, restored memorabilia all make you feel that The Spenger Family must be proud of what has been done.

If you want a Fabulous Fresh Fish dinner Spenger’s is ready, willing and able to serve.

Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto

1919 4th Street. (At University Ave.)
Berkeley, Ca. 94710

Phone: 510.845.7771
Fax: 510.845.7778
www.mccormickandschmicks.com

Restaurant open
11 AM-11 PM
7 days a week

Fish Market open
11 AM – 9 PM
7 days a week

Reservations Recommended

Major Credit Cards Accepted

Two Parking Lots For Diners

Banquet Facilities up to 225.