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Looking for a great restaurant to convert a non-fish eating person in the South Bay

I'm looking for a restaurant to take a friend to dinner. She's a vegetarian who would like to start eating fish/seafood. Looking for:

-Fresh seafood
-Excellent execution
-Not too ethnic, she likes Mexican, Italian or Mediterranean. I think Asian is out because she will not eat anything that has a "face".
-I think simply prepared/grilled seafood dishes will be out too, because I think she will not "get" it, so grilled branzino or places like Tadich is out.
-I'm looking for something like Boulevard simply because I think if it has great sauces and the components are well executed, she might enjoy the dish more.
-Finally it needs to be in the South Bay. We work in MV, she lives in SJ, so anywhere in between is fine. She has a family with young children so she has time constraints. We won't be able to drive too far.

I haven't eaten out that much in the South Bay within the last few years so I'm not familiar with the scene anymore. I'm thinking of Nick's Next Door. Also thinking of Alexander's The Sea but that might be too seafood centric and have heard from friends that it's too spendy for what you get. The idea is for her to order a vegetarian dish and i will order a couple of fish dishes and let her try mine.

And to give you an idea as to how she thinks, one time we had pizza with oysters mushrooms, we jokingly told her that's it's really oysters, she almost barfed. But this is the same person who will cook fish for her husband, who loves seafood. Perhaps this is why she wants to branch out.

I can spend up to $250. This is a personal challenge but I'm at a loss. Any ideas?

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  1. Maybe start with something easy like dim sum - shrimp dumplings with cilantro or greens...you get a bit of fish without really seeing it look fishy...
    just a thought...

    1. ceviche! not fishy smelling or tasting- just make sure the pieces are chopped up tiny.

      1. Honestly, you might try fish and chips at a place that uses fresh fish, then follow up with other places, types. I think trying one place, on the mid to high end could be problematic. I'd guess you need a plan or at least a few tries.

        If she's ready to barf just at the thought of fake fish, I'd at least try and find out what's the deal or cause: fishiness, fish smell or taste or mouth feel. F'nC has textural dimensions and it usually goes well with mild, inoffensive white fish.

        Not quite the South Bay but in Half Moon Bay there's Barbara's Flytrap, Flying Fish Grill and Fish and Frites. I believe all serve F'nC with fresh fish. I don't know the south bay for F'nC but there must be a place or two. Also you can do it for lunch.

        10 Replies
        1. re: ML8000

          Thanks, actually I've thought about fish and chips (or even McD's filet o fish) but I want a place that serves alcohol. She jokingly said if I get her liquored up, she'd be likely to not hate it. Right now, the only place i can think of is the Tied House.

          We can't do lunch so HMB or dim sum's out.

          1. re: KathyM

            I'd keep looking. There might be a gastro pub that serves fresh FnCs. Try Martins West in Redwood City.

            Also might try The Fish Market in Palo Alto and a few other places. I don't know how the FnCs are, or the general quality, but you can find that out.

            1. re: ML8000

              I left out Martin's West because it seems far north. Their fish n chips is pretty good, and the alcohol is first rate. Promise that you'll eat haggis-on-a-stick if they'll eat fish. I prefer the bar area there, and get shut out about half the time.

              1. re: bbulkow

                Haggis on a stick, that's genius.

                1. re: ML8000

                  And, available at the bar at MW. I really like the Pot-o-pickles as the app, but that's me.

            2. re: KathyM

              Laundry list!

              I rather like the fish n chips at Palo Alto Creamery. They have decent wine by the glass. Don't sit near the kitchen, the smell is not endearing.

              Village Pub is probably too far away? It's on 280. The menu they have online - unlikely to be what's exactly on today, they do daily menu - has scallops & skate. Everything's always first quality. Good alcohol there. "Up to $250" would depend on the number of people, t&t etc. Not cheap.

              Flea St in MP, if not too far, has really interesting preps, and local sustainable fish. I bet you could get Jessie out talking about the fish they have, and why they have it. Usually they have a nice fried smelt on the menu, or something. Great alcohol, the bar is under appreciated.

              Sam's Chowder House - in Palo Alto, you don't go to HMB, HMB comes to you! I haven't tried it yet, but the HMB spot opened in downtown PA. Clearly a fish specalist, and slightly upscale. beer & wine for sure, likely full bar.

              Switching down to MV, Scratch seems like a no-brainer. They've always specialized in some seafood, they have a raw bar (not that you'd go that far at first but is shows dedication and ready supply), there's always an AQ Market fish at the top (sometimes freaking excellent - I still remember a cod with fennel pollen from a few years ago). Strong bar, too.

              Thinking down to San Jose - back a yard (san jose) has a jerk salmon. I'm not a big salmon believer, but do like their jerk. Dunno about the bar there.

              The Fish Market - honestly, this place is as middle of the road and straight up, "Yep, that's fish" as it gets. The place smells like fish. There's fish swimming around when you walk in. You can get whatever they have in a number of preps. I always angle for the lightly steamed, but I bet they have a Fried Within An Inch Of Its Life style. Beer & Wine at least. [ Pacific Catch is in the same general world as Fish Market, but I haven't tried the San Jose PC, or any PC, in two decades ]

              Scott's - I can't remember exactly the last time I went to Scott's in San Jose. It was a million years ago (like, 20), probably after a day at the conference center. I've been to the Scott's in Oakland a few times since, which everyone says is "a better scotts", and for soothing high-alcohol experience it's not a bad play. No one who likes fish would put it on the short list of best fish, but....

              Blowfish - there's a Blowfish in Santa Row, right. I normally dislike Blowfish (after going to the SF original a few times), but those people know how to fry things. Japanese do in general, and blowfish in specific. They did an entire bunch of tempura deep fried grapes that I had once. It's really cal/japanese.

              Now, just searching Fish in San Jose, here's what Y*lp pull out. Maybe it'll jog someone's memory:
              The City FIsh (fish n chips)
              Crawdaddy
              Blue Water Seafood
              H Salt's (independent, not chain?)
              Pacific Catch
              Big T's Market Bar
              The Bay Fish and Chips

              Of all of these --- unless it becomes obvious for your audience --- Scratch seems the right combo of upscale, alcohol, fish quality.

              1. re: bbulkow

                There's a Fish Market in Sunnyvale or Santa Clara, I think. It's a lot like the one in Palo Alto, that is, so-so. The fish isn't bad, but it's nothing spectacular. I've been to the Pacific Catch in both San Francisco and Marin, and IMHO they'd be a better introduction to seafood than the Fish Market. Again, nothing too exotic (but several of their offerings do have an Asian bend).

                1. re: tardigrade

                  The smoked fish at Fish Market is pretty good. Everything else is average or worse. The fish taco has cheese and a flour tortilla, though the fried fish itself it made me think that the fish and chips might be okay.

                  How about real fish tacos? Las Muchachas in MW has nice seafood dishes -- not at all fancy.

                2. re: bbulkow

                  As much as I hate Scratch (been there more than a dozen of times and experienced wildly inconsistency with food and service), that's probably the best place given all the constraints. I'm willing to give it one more try.

                  I was at the Fish Market Restaurant yesterday. Homework. This would not be a place that I would take my friend to. It smells like a fish market, not that there's anything wrong with that, but it would surely turn off someone who's mental with seafood issues. The raw oysters were decent, surprisingly, not that great 5-6 months ago. They didn't have fresh crab, during crab season, which is sad. This used to be my go to place for fresh crab about a few years back if I didn't feel like driving far.

                  I looked at Scott's menu, still very 90's... Blowfish, ugh, this is where the pre-hipster era people go. It used to be good in, maybe, 2004. Sorry, but I will not set foot in Santana Row again. Worst. Restaurants. Ever.

                  Thanks for everyone's help. Will report back.

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    Re: Sam's Chowder House in Palo Alto. Unfortunately, I have tried it. IMO, not a good place for even diehard fish lovers, much less anyone else. Details at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/917336

              2. Tadich's Branzano can be acrid, open flame on an oily fish

                I recommend the sand dabs as a mild tasting seafood

                1. I know you said no Asian, but any reputable Cantonese seafood joint ( like our beloved Yuet Lee in The City) should manage some salt and pepper squid and scrambled egg and prawn. Face-free and mild flavored.