We were on our way up to Fort Bragg, California and cutting across to the coast on California State Route 20 from U.S. Highway 101 at Willits, California when I recognized the giant "Willits: Heart of Mendocino County" sign that spans Route 20. Immediately, it triggered the memory... "was this the place where we had the fish and chips?"
Besides the Army Ranger behind the counter, his amazing fish and chips, and the stark (and empty) restaurant, I remembered little else except for a giant sign that spanned the road. Was it the Willits sign? We seemed so sure it was that we drove around and stuck our heads into likely shops to see if the restaurant had closed and been replaced with something else. Some of the shops looked like it might have been the old fish and chips place (converted into a bakery or a hair salon or a Hallmark store), but none were quite right. Forced to admit defeated we continued onto Fort Bragg to enjoy a four day trip visiting different restaurants, touring a culinary institute, and generally having a great time. On Sunday, we headed back from the coast along the same route and found ourselves in Willits again.
Having already given up the search (and fully believing the fish and chips were no more), we had already planned to go down to Santa Rosa for lunch. With another 1.5 hours to go, we popped into a convenience store for a bathroom break and picked up a new Nestle Rolo Ice Cream Bar. (The ice cream bar was pretty good, but I would have preferred a liquid or gooey caramel center. The bar had a strong caramel taste, but it was like eating a chocolate wrapped dulce de leche ice cream bar instead of a frozen Rolo.) Back to the car we went and I headed south on Highway 101 only to be stopped at the next red light. Tina said, "Chad's Fish and Chips" (just reading signs and not really thinking much about it - not hoping to believe we had found the place). I said, "Let's take a look" and turned left off the highway into the parking lot of the strip mall. Tina said she'd wait in the car, and I stepped out to take a quick look to satisfy my curiosity.
Standing inside Chad's, I was shocked. It was clearly a match to my memory of the place: brightly lit, white, and heavily decorated with an assortment of stuff that may or may not belong together. The only thing that didn't fit was that there was a couple sitting at one of the tables in the middle of the restaurant. They looked up at me, and I just stared. I stammered, "I've been looking for this place for five years... I've got to get my wife."
Unfortunately, having planned to eat lunch more than an hour later, neither Tina nor I were hungry. We decided to stay and eat some fish and chips to see if it was as good as we remembered. We were not disappointed.
The fish that Chad uses is exclusively Icelandic cod. That's actually fairly important as more and more Californian restaurants are serving halibut, snapper, and other white fish that in many cases taste muddy or overly fishy (sometimes a sign of the fish not being fresh, but also dependant on the variety of the fish). Chad's fish tasted clean, almost invisible, well-balanced against the fried batter (which was not oily - a sign of good oil temperature control, cooking time, and maintenance of the deep fryers). The fish was cooked just long enough for it to be tender and still moist, not dry and stringy or wet and gummy as many fried fish can be.
We also tried their fried scallops, oysters, and prawns. (Chad, who is as interesting as his food is delicious, joked that the restaurant was international since the fish is from Iceland and shrimp from Vietnam cooked by a redneck in an Okie town.) The scallops were even better than the cod. They were plump and firm under the fried batter and so juicy (with a fresh briny taste) that none of the homemade tartar or cocktail sauce was needed. The prawns were butterflied and breaded and were not the most flavorful we had ever tasted. (They were still a fine example of fried prawns and like the fish and scallops did not taste or feel oily.) The oysters were delicious as well, but oysters have such a distinctive and strong flavor that it's hard to differentiate great fried oysters from good - the oyster itself is the highlight and balance always goes out the window.
When he was asked by a upcoming new restaurateur where to get the lowest cost oil, Chad told her that wasn't how you run a restaurant. He said you have to get the best oil for the particular application (he's chosen to use 100% non-hydrogenated canola oil). He said when he started his fish and chips shop he felt that if he got the best ingredients and prepared the food well, then there's no way he could fail. (I could think of a few examples of how you could fail, but Chad's not a guy you want to be disagreeing with - anyway, it's much more fun to agree with him.) Sixteen years of serving fish and chips seems to be proving his theory correct, and I'm glad that I had a chance to rediscover his fish and chips.}?>
Chad's Fish and Chips
1661 S. Main St, D
Willits, CA 95490
Fergus (Oxford, UK)
That reminded me, Chad's wife, Francis, told us that they had a Briton visiting the California coast who happened to eat at their place and said that he'd "been to a lot of fish and chips eateries and Chad's was the best". She said, coming from a Brit, it was very high praise.
The best chips I've ever had are ones I cooked myself (of course!). The recipe was from Heston Blumenthal's TV show "In Search of Perfection" and was a fantastically protracted 3 cooking-stage process:
1. Peel & cut Maris Pipers. Par-boil in water until surface just starts to break up.
2. Lay chips on a cooling rack in a single layer and place in fridge for at least 30 mins.
3. Cook in oil (I used groundnut) at medium temp until just starting to crisp.
4. Repeat cooling stage in fridge (30 mins).
5. Cook in hot oil to brown.
If you like chips, I recommend you give it a go. Not suitable for a quick fry up after work - probably the best part of 2 hours elapsed time! However, you can do everything up to and including stage 4 in advance.
(In case you don't know, Heston Blumenthal's "Fat Duck" restaurant was voted "Best Restaurant in the World" a while back. Famous for weird stuff like snail porridge.)
A two stage cooking method for potatoes is pretty common, but this is the first I've heard of a three stage fry. I'll have to try it the next time I decide to fry up some French fries (as well call them over here in California)
In the U.S., "french fries" doesn't always mean shoestring fries (like the ones that Chad's serves). They can come thick cut, in wedges, crosscut, or even curly. I myself prefer the thick cut fries where they've been fried to crispiness with a fluffy steaming inside. Around hear, "chips" usually means potato crisps (thin ~1mm slices that have been fired until completely crispy). But the dish "fish and chips" has retained it's name (although I have encounter a few cheap places that actually serve them with a handful of Ruffles potato chips).
(There's similar problems in the 4th and 5th paragraphs, but at least they aren't displaying on the front page.)
Oh, man. I just read that sentence and it was unbelievable! How was it possible to even craft a sentence like that?!? I rewrote it and updated the posting. I wrote the article in a few bursts - first writing down as many notes about what happened (how we found the place), some info on how the scallops tasted, and then fleshed out the rest. It usually takes me a week to write something, but this time I did it in one day - apparently without proofreading (I even remember making the decision not to read it out loud - if I don't read it out, then I tend to read things in skimming mode, especially if they words are ones that I wrote). That first sentence was the worst of the bunch (no doubt a product of several attempts at the sentence getting fused together in an unholy manner), and there are still several that don't read as well as I would hope.
Over all, I'm not entirely pleased with how this article came out... guess I shouldn't rush things in the future. Anyway, even if you're not convinced by the article, take my word for it, if you find yourself within 1 hour driving time of Willits, make a side trip over there and order the fried fish and scallops at Chad's.
BTW, I came across your site while searching for a Tiramisu recipe. Fantastic! I am a telecommunications engineer, and really appreciate the fusion of cooking artistry with engineering logic and precision.
Maybe I need to go try some bad stuff to appreciate what I already have here?
It's good that people know the good sides of Willits, most know it for other things...
In america, no, california of all places! :)
BTW, when you say fries come in all sizes.... the thick cut ones, would they be, e.g. "Steak house fries", as I've seen bags of frozen extra-large (oven) chips being sold in the local supermarkets? I imagine there must be various terms for them after all, just as we have crinkly chips and the like :)
....this captcha thing is getting me down btw, starting to wonder if i'm going crazy and forgetting how to count / the alphabet. 4SETF6 = 5TFSG7, right? It says no. 2IYIZR = 3JZJAS?
Different companies and different regions use different names for thick cut fries. Steakhouse fries definitely makes me think that they are thick.
4SETF6 => 5TFUG7
2IYIZR does go to 3JZJAS as you say.
If you make an account, you don't have to use the CAPTCHA again after registration.
Try it you'll love it.. It's delicious. Buy American fool.
I have had incredible halibut while in Alaska, but I have also had quite a lot of so-so tasting halibut outside of Alaska. I keep ordering it, hoping it'll be good (so I don't have to consider the expensive trip up to Anchorage every time I have a craving for halibut) but I have yet to find a restaurant that has served me halibut of the same quality I've had in Seward and Anchorage.
Say it ain't so about Rolf's. It was awesome, and always a destination on North Coast trips.
Growing up there, I always thought they made excellent fish 'n chips, but it wasn't until I got out and started sampling elsewhere that I realized how truly good a lot of the local spots were back home. Willits is kind of unique and fortunate in that a lot of the local eateries are just sublime: if you like Italian or Mexican, I could not say enough nice things about Mario's on 101 just north of Willits and both El Mexicano and Taqueria Bravo right across from each other in downtown. But hey, I could go on for paragraphs about the great restaurants throughout Mendocino county.
Anyway, all that aside, thanks for writing the article, man. Made me homesick.
Rach from the Bay Area, CA
I Also note that the last time I was in the Robin Hood Pub on Burbank Blvd. in Burbank, CA their fish-and-chips (Icelandic cod, I think) had Absolutely The Best Crust I Have Ever Consumed In My Whole Life. From an Engineering standpoint -- contents & conditions -- I found it about as close as it's possible to get to Perfection. (The batter had Flavour, and Crispness, but so little oil that I recommended it to my cardiologist.)
it may be, still there but under new management.
one of the joys of the internet, items with no dates....
I'm sad that Chad closed his Fish and Chips shop a few years back, but happy we made an impact on each other's lives. Tell Chad that I still remember him fondly even though we only met twice. If he's interested and has a photo he'd like to share, I'd be happy to add it to the article!
I'm from home of fish and chips God's Country aka West Yorkshire, UK!
We can get some cod'n'chips but basically up here we want haddock as it is more salty and makes cod seem bland.
We like it cooked until the batter is turning deep brown so the fish is firm but just nice and moist - we do not want sloppy fish and batter!
We want the chips thin, golden, crisp out and soft inner - it is an art!
The oil is all important but best of all is oldfashioned beef dripping for sensational taste!
When I moved to this present flat I tried the little old fishshop round the corner but it had new owners and the taste was disgusting!
I've never actually had disgusting chips before so it was a first and no doubt due to using cheap oil or using it too long.
They closed down a few weeks later and it it still shut.
A posh new fish and chips 'restaurant' opened nearby recently but their prices are skyhigh and they offer halibut which we see as a prime fish!
We also like to have a small pot of mushy peas - dried peas boiled for ages to greygreen much with a bit of mint sauce - and we also like a pot of thick curry sauce too!