When I was told about Barbara’s fish and chips, the tipster described the fish as tempura. Whether or not it officially fits that description, it most definitely has that light, crisp feel about its batter. The fish within is rock cod, a sweet, moist Pacific snapper that is cut thick enough that each time you heft a forkful, you get about 90% fish and just enough of that ethereal batter to highlight the fresh marine flavor. Chips are thick-cut fries cooked dark gold, needing only a hail of salt to attain their destiny. California malt vinegar is provided (so is ketchup), but I like the potatoes’ crispness too much to dampen it with anything.
Chowder is the other highlight on Barbara’s broad seafood menu. It is hearty but not creamy like New England chowder. Big pieces of tender clam are the dominant flavor, abetted by little bits of potato and celery as well as a sprinkle of hot pepper atop the cup or bowl. It also is available served in a sourdough bread bowl; and given the location just south of San Francisco, you can count on that bowl being delicious.
Dungeness crab, starting in the fall, is one of the region’s top treats, available simply cracked, in crab Louie or as the star player in a mighty cioppino. It’s expensive, though. In fact, most serious entrees are in the $25 range. The prices reflect quality seafood but there is nothing upscale about Barbara’s. It is a relaxed sort of place: oilcloth-covered tables, fish nets on the ceiling, neon beer signs in the window. Credit cards are not accepted, nor are reservations taken.