A Submersible Feast - OZY | A Modern Media Company

A Submersible Feast

A Submersible Feast

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because walk-up traffic is so overrated.

By Eugene S. Robinson

Forbes Thor Kiddoo? You have got to be kidding. But, you know, if ever there was anyone who was going to build a magnificent floating island that was motorized and actually able to move? Well, it’d have to be someone named Forbes Thor Kiddoo, whose best work was originally viewable in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge. 

You see, 77-year-old Kiddoo, who made his money as a builder, just decided on a whim to build an island out of barges during the late 1970s. And in 1980, he began an odyssey that saw him chased from city to city by peckish municipalities before he was welcomed to the waters off Pier 39 near San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. There, in 1999, he promptly decided to turn his 100-foot-long, 50-foot-wide, 700-ton creation into a restaurant, complete with portholes from old ships, pillars and wooden walls put in place with nails or glue. Kiddoo pinioned his 100-seat restaurant around a huge fake fireplace and used his converted velvet bedroom as the women’s restroom, killing it in the ambience department. Killed it so much so that the restaurant drew the likes of Tony Bennett, who crooned in his wine cellar; was featured on TV shows extolling the insanely idiosyncratic luxe of it all; and eventually garnered four-star ratings from all and sundry.

The whole restaurant rocks back and forth since, in actual fact, it’s a floating island.

Sixteen years later, Forbes Island, despite the hubbub and the temptation to dismiss it as a tourist trap — it sits in the midst of tourist trap central Fisherman’s Wharf, so that should frighten no one — still feels like a secret treasure. After all, it may take you several sweeps to find the dock next to the hordes of honking sea lions where a ferry will carry you out to what’s clearly a David Lynchian dining experience. You’ll pass two tiki banquet rooms on your way to the restaurant proper, whose portholes let you peep the peeking fish swimming by and the French fusion–seafood spread. Once you get over the fact that the whole restaurant rocks back and forth, since, in actual fact, it’s a floating island, you can enjoy a not too badly priced meal (about $120 for dinner for two). On the menu: Dungeness crab, a San Francisco specialty; organic salmon; petrale sole … Ignore the delicious French cheeses washed down with Forbes’s great house red at your own peril. 

Or not. Vicky L. from Louisiana roasted it in her Yelp review as “dark and creepy” and thought the food was disappointing. The sophistication of Louisiana palates notwithstanding, the food and, much more significantly, the drink, were worth writing home — or Yelp — about, under the headline “Must See.”

“There’s nothing here you can’t get at a similarly priced San Francisco eatery,” says noted San Fran restaurateur and restaurant-biz blogger Betty Marcon. “But if dining is going to be more than just eating, you can’t devalue the worth of ambience. Forbes Island has that to spare.” And shifting against the ferry seats and the chilliest of ocean breezes on the way back, fueled on a full-bodied Pinot, the full-size lighthouse winking in the receding distance, that opinion is clearly seconded.


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