Table for Two! – Going fishin’ for seafood at Carlos’ |

Table for Two! – Going fishin’ for seafood at Carlos’

When Carlos Rodrigues was a young farm boy on the island of Faial in the Portuguese Azores, it’s not likely that he envisioned where he would be at 60 – father of nine, grandfather of 22, and owner of three seafood restaurants in the Sierra foothills in California.

“For a guy who arrived in this country without two nickels to rub together, unable to speak a word of English, I’ve accomplished a lot,” said Rodrigues this week at his largest restaurant, Carlos’, in downtown Grass Valley. “I’ve worked hard, I have a beautiful home, and I’ll never leave – except in a pine box!”

He came to Sacramento at age 18 to join his brother, working at Frank’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

“First, I worked as a back-room boy, doing things like salad prep,” he recalled. “Then I asked if I could work in their fish market, and I learned all about fish. When a cook didn’t show one day, they let me switch to the kitchen. I was a fast learner. Two years later, I was manager of all three of the Frank’s Fisherman’s Wharf restaurants.”

Soon, he bought the restaurant he first worked at, plus two others in Auburn, before selling them all in 1984 and taking 10 years off to enjoy his family.

“I first moved to Nevada County in 1972, in the Lake of the Pines area, then in 1985 we got 21Ú2 acres on Jones Bar Road and have been there ever since,” said Rodrigues. “We have sheep, chickens, ducks. My daughter Angelina loves animals.”

Angelina is the youngest child of Carlos and his wife, Lorraine. Ranging in age from 22 to 39 years old, the other siblings are Anthony, Carlos Jr., a younger Lorraine, David, Louis, Theresa, Katherine, and Mario.

After that 10-year hiatus, Rodrigues decided he’d better get back into business before his money ran out, and he opened Carlos’ Fish Grotto in the Pine Creek Center in 1994. Since then, he added Carlos’ Seafood at the Penn Valley near Lake Wildwood, and – last November – Carlos’, at the site of the old Wood Gardens in Grass Valley.

(Rodrigues oversees the Grass Valley restaurant, while his wife and daughter, Angelina, preside at Pine Creek, and son Mario is the chef at Penn Valley.)

Folks familiar with Wood Gardens won’t recognize the restaurant now after the remodeling on a nautical theme, including mounted swordfish. “We can seat over 100 in our banquet room,” Rodrigues said.

Carlos also is proud of his new chef, Kurt Ohler, whom he hired from the Ritz-Carlton at Bachelor Gulch at Vail, Colo.

“He’s really good – I hope we can keep him awhile,” he said of Ohler, who is a native Californian.

While fish is still the specialty at Carlos’, he is proud that the menu includes much more – prime rib, steaks, rack of lamp, pasta.

Still, fish fanciers will want to check out Carlos’ Portuguese-style preparation for his seafood, which he has adapted from his mother’s recipe: coated with seasonings (“zesty, but not hot”), when pan-fried with a his secret special sauce. For lunch, Rodrigues said, diners like his fish and chips made with a choice of cod, salmon, halibut or calimari rolled in a special dry breading, not dipped in a batter.

Surprisingly, considering how Rodrigues has built the good life in America on serving seafood, he has been fishing only once.

“They took me out on Half Moon Bay,” he recalled. “After 10 minutes, my line got all tangled and I got terribly seasick. I spent the next five hours lying down!

At a glance


120 E. Main St., Grass Valley


Sunday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

All major credit cards accepted

Lunch $7-15, dinner $8-21

Beer and wine

Patio; parking in rear; children’s menu; large groups and banquets; vegetarian dishes on request


Extra helpings

Sumita Davis is opening a new restaurant at the site of Wang’s, corner of Rough and Ready Highway and Bitney Springs Road. To be named Didi Bhai, it will feature cuisine from the Himalayan mountains region of Asia. No word on an opening date …. A couple of correspondents have told us good things about Daddy’s Little Grill – formerly the Blue Ribbon Cafe – on Argall Way in Nevada City’s Seven Hills district …. Tips on area restaurant news are always welcome at


Richard Somerville is a restaurant fan and the editor of The Union. Conversations in Table for Two! are based on the whims of the writer and on reader suggestions, not on ads or freebies. To suggest a conversation, contact or write him at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945.

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