Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto, Berkeley CA
Spenger’s is a landmark of Berkeley with a history spanning over a century, famous the world over for its seafood. Zach ate here often growing up, and not much has changed in nearly thirty years of his experiences. Some restaurants simply know how to please their customers and keep them coming back for generations with tried and true practices. In terms of service and attention, this restaurant shines like the Sather Tower campanile at night.
One of the favorite starters here is the spinach, crab, and Parmesan dip. It was extremely rich, creamy, and thick with a cheesy top that was nicely browned. There was an abundance of spinach and artichoke heart morsels to balance the shredded crab meat. The bread wedges were like a buttery flat bread, with a crispy exterior and fluffy center. It looked like a lot of bread at first for the amount of dip, but to savor the starter, just a little on each wedge went a long way.
August found it very challenging to make up her mind among three different entrees, their descriptions all sounded so good. She went with the salmon and mushroom sauté and was very happy with her selection. The shallot sherry cream was delicate and worked well to marry the salmon, mushrooms, and asparagus. Hunks of moist salmon were plentiful and substantial, not to be broken by the tender asparagus spear bits. The mushrooms brought an autumnal earthiness, and the rice helped to add another texture and sop up all the juicy remains.
Zach’s entree, the Captain’s Platter, had a selection of Spenger’s best seafood, fried. Oysters, fish filets, and “shrimp scatter” (a handful of bay shrimp) were turned into crisp, succulent morsels and nibbles. The shrimp were mildly sweet, and the crunchy panko breading did wonders for the oysters to offset their soft creamy insides. The flaky fish was perfect for dipping into sauces, including ketchup, tartar, and cocktail. Sweet, tangy, and creamy cole slaw with fresh vegetables provided a refreshing break between bites of fried goodness.
Chef Dan came out to meet us and present this masterful creation. Decadently rich dark chocolate was melted, painted, and cooled to make a “bag” into which sweet cream chantilly was loaded. On top of the chantilly and garnished all over were bright strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, some of them resting in stripes and swirls of chocolate sauce and strawberry syrup. Two waffle cone “chips” perched in the “bag,” but this was as far from snack food as we could get! To satisfy the post-dinner sweet tooth with something not too heavy, this refreshing dish does the trick.
Our server Emily was patient and professional with our every request. We hope that patrons sitting in other sections received service as good as ours. In reality, we’re fairly certain they did – what else could bring people back for 123 years? Food can be replicated, but experience never.