Salitos Crab House

It was a crisp evening. The colors of autumn were dispersed brightly across the hills—small maples with red leaves, golden oaks—striking amidst the unfaltering green of the sequoias and redwoods. The sky was blue and clear as we descended the crest of Mill Valley and wended our way towards the marinas of Sausalito. Snowy white storks stalked their way through the shallows on our left, and vibrant houseboat communities extended cheerily over the water.

We were en route to Salito’s crab house, where I'd been promised a crab chowder unlike any other.

The exterior of the restaurant was a vibrant coastal blue, with an interior design that felt like an upscale, urban twist on a fifties-diner—with heavy metal chairs and a black and white diamond-tiled floor—paired with the trimmings of a Captain's cabin, with heavy doors adorned with portal shaped windows, and polished walnut molding over the door-frames. The main seating was on the patio, the roof of which was retractable for warm summer nights, but tonight the roof kept out the cold. Tall heaters spread their warmth to our table and ambient string lights glowed above our heads.

The restaurant sat on the edge of the water, and our table was along the rail next to a sign imploring restaurant-goers not to feed the gulls. We could see the hills of Tiburon across the bay, lit brightly in the golden hour. Salito's was flanked by piers, but directly before us was open water, where a dozen sailboats floated in place. 

Four of the party joined me in ordering crab chowder. The freshly baked kettle bread came first, with a perfect hard crust and soft middle that steamed when we tore into it, soaking up the butter spread from silver tins. The fifth of our group had ordered Cioppinolito—a soup with all manner of seafood within. Our chowders came quickly, then the waiter set down the cauldron of Cioppinolito, and offered him a tuxedo bib, a shell cracker, and a cheery "good luck," as the arm and pincers of an entire crab emerged.

The chowder was smooth and rich. The sweetness of the crab was perfectly balanced in the savory, creamy broth, and we fell silent as spoons traveled from bowl to mouth and back in blissful reverie. It was fresh and tender, with stunning flavor and a flawless base, that was just the right consistency. The soups were paired with gorgeously plated salads, with radish flowers and kalamata olives, which we gave our full attentions to once our bowls were empty.

It was a wonderful meal, and a memorable experience. We were warmed by the heaters near our table, by our laughter, and by the beauty in the scene around us as night fell. The hills of Tiburon turned dark, jeweled with glowing houses. As the lights in the sailboats wavered and stretched towards us, I realized happily that Salito's crab chowder had slipped solidly into first.