Carine's Fish Grotto, at the Noyo Fishing Village.
I rarely write bad restaurant reviews, but when I do I normally simply give them a low rating in my restaurant review and that's it. But, this place is world class for it's con game rip-off restaurant practices that leave the traveler feeling angry--despite the fact that the family hospitality is at first blush sincere and disarming! This type of restaurant con appears often enough in tourist centers around the world, that it's worth describing carefully. The game is very sophisticated and practiced, and some ignorant folks actually leave this place happy because there is a happy veneer of hospitality in the service.
For those not familiar with how seafood should be prepared, and we are not talking about yuppy stuff, fancy culinary tastes, and so on. We are talking honest ingredients, deceptive fillers, and double the market price. So, I've got to warn you that there are many things wrong Carine's Fish Grotto both in terms of price and quality not only relative to the Fort Bragg restaurant market, but also anywhere in the USA. Here, there is precious little in terms of quality fish, and a lot in terms of filler at prices that compete with the highest at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.
In our case, we were ushered with an excess of charm into an almost empty dining room during President's Day weekend--a weekend on which Fort Bragg was definitely alive. Plastic table cloths draped formica tables. The other diners were an elderly couple also from out of town. They had a cheap bottle of domestic red wine as part of their meal.
When I looked at the menu, I should have followed my gut instinct and immediately folded the menu and left. It was immediately apparent that the menu prices were at least double the going rate anywhere else in town, or at Santa Cruz, or in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, and triple the going rate for seafood bought on the Gulf Coast of the USA. I know what restaurant price inflation means--it climbs very high for seafood-- and I know what prices should be for California restaurants.
But, I was tired, and decided to reduce my expectations to a $18- fresh crab sandwich with french fries. At this point, I wasn't going to quibble over an extra $5 or $10. My wife ordered crab cakes on a bed of salad greens for the same price. As soon as we ordered from the teenage kid who was our designated waiter, the old Italian owner-chef, her name being Bessie I suppose, wanders over to the table insisting that we also take a bowl of her terrific clam chowder. I resisted, but she insists by reducing the price for one bowl to $4. For drinks, we both ordered simple hot tea.
When the food arrives. My sandwich was really a mixture of mayonnaise and shredded crab (that tasted frozen, not fresh) on a plain bun, with a rather large pile of french fries as filler. A couple slices of tomato, onion, and leaf of lettuce were on the side. My estimate of value for this meal was $8 to $12 maximum, even at inflated waterfront prices, but this was supposed to be an $18- meal.
Meanwhile, my wife's tiny overly deep fried crab cake had similar problems of cheap fillers. The salad greens were good, but that's it---for an $18- meal.
Then, of course, the prize winning clam chowder turned out to be mostly nauseatingly thick cream soup with a few potatoes and hardly any clams. The clams, if there were any, could have been minced canned clams.
The bill was never delivered to the table. We had to go to the cashier, who never provided an itemized receipt, but produced a total of $58-, a sum easily double what this meal was worth in the California marketplace.
To top off the whole ordeal, the restaurant takes no credit cards or checks--only cash. So, we emptied our pockets to pay for a dinner that was really a rather unimpressive lunch on the Fort Bragg Waterfront.
See the Yelp ratings link for corroboration for my story, an experience which was also verified as routine by our hotel staff at the Fort Bragg Travel Lodge.
Owners Dominic and Bessie Carine also own Carine's Marine Motel. I'd avoid that place like the plague. There is no doubt in my mind that the old lady and all her family are dedicated con artists who care little for the visitor, despite the initial appearances of charm and good humor.
The Ocean: she is beautiful and she is unforgiving. Please be very careful in and around her as she does not allow "do overs" if you make a mistake.
When tidepooling: be very aware of high/low tides, never turn your back on her, and keep a very close eye on the waves to ensure they do not sweep you away or leave you stranded on a rock surrounded by ocean.
When swimming: be aware of rip currents. If you get caught in one swim parallel to shore until you are out of it and then swim back toward shore. If you try fighting the current to get back to shore you will only be towed further out in the ocean and wear yourself out in the process.
When diving: stay away from any seals & sea lions. There are GREAT WHITE SHARKS in this part of the ocean and they have been known to mistake humans for sea lions. These are not small sharks, they have been seen in this area as large as 16-18 feet long. The large rivers are not safe from them either, they have been known to swim up the river in pursuit of dinner.
Seals & Sea Lions: as cute as these guys are, they can be territorial and vicious. Keep a safe distance as they can move incredibly fast - use the zoom lens on your camera instead of walking closer. Always remember they're very strong and they have teeth!
While the Ocean is inviting beware!
We locals hear the ambulance going by every weekend and we don't want it to be heading for you!
1. The edge of the cliffs and bluffs are unstable and uncut by erosion. Stay Back!
2. Large Unexpected waves, ice cold water and treacherous currents are common.
3. Watch Tide changes and be careful in tide pools.
Check the Forescast before heading for the beach. High Surf advisory Alerts are given.
Stay off isolated rocks off from shore or you may find yourself stranded.
When beach combing, always face the ocean do not turn your back on her.
Wear a life jacket when fishing or tide pooling
Our Rip Currents are very strong. IF you are caught in one, always swim parrallel to the beach to get out of the current and then swim to shore!
REMEMBER if the ocean looks rough and wild IT IS!!
Have to be careful as there are VERY Dark winding roads and they can be slippery. Also we have deer that come out at night so please be careful.
Also If you go diving for Abalone know what you are doing, tricky currents etc.
The North Coast is beautiful, crisp and clear...but....be very careful when hiking on the shoreline as it can be rocky, steep and dangerous, especially after a rain.
After you reach the end of the trail to the ocean in the Mendocino Botanical Garden, there are seats to rest and observe the beautiful Pacific. We were lucky and caught a gorgeous sunny day and the view was breathtaking.