Sep
01
2011

Around the Bay

Bratwurst & Steak in MARIN

Photos & Article by Virginia Miller

Sausages, onions and peppers on the grill at Tavern at Lark Creek

Tavern at Lark Creek’s new Biergarten, Larkspur

Darling oompah band plays under towering redwoods

Think towering redwoods, smoky aromas of sausages, onions and peppers wafting from a grill, German beers on tap from a cooler, and a darling oompah band of elderly gentleman playing with spunk and skill. Enter the just-launched this week Biergarten at The Tavern at Lark Creek. For a short jaunt from the city to Larkspur, it feels worlds away.

I arrived the inaugural Sunday, 8/21, to sunny, fresh air and the knowing shade of those gorgeous redwoods that flank the Tavern (more a classic yellow and white house than tavern). The Biergarten will run every Sunday through October 30 (2–5:30pm) outside the restaurant. It evokes Munich beer garden days but with a decidedly California spirit from towering redwoods and elevated beerhaus food.

Idyllic setting at communal tables

House-made pretzels

Chef Aaron Wright grills up smoked beer or chicken apple sausages and garlic bratwurst, juicy and savory, accompanied with grilled onions, peppers and two types of mustard. House-made pretzels come generously dusted with sea salt, or German potato salad helps in soaking up pints of Spaten’s Pilsner and Dark Optimator. Food operates with a ticket system (1-2 tickets, at $5 each, per dish or beer).

When the oompah band raised their steins with rowdy joy, I raised mine, feeling time stop if for a moment, aware of the simple joys of taste, smell, music, camaraderie and nature on a Sunday afternoon.

Spaetzle, bratwurst & beers at Tavern at Lark Creek’s Sunday Biergarten

El Paseo, Mill Valley

Magical walkways leading into restaurant rooms

Tyler Florence and Sammy Hagar’s (yes, of Van Halen) rebirth of El Paseo, the historic, brick-lined labyrinth of a space tucked off an alley in Mill Valley since 1947, has been going strong since March. And if you’ve tried, you know it’s mighty difficult to get a reservation. I have found, however, on a weeknight or Sunday, that slipping into the bar around 7:30pm affords me one of its two cozy tables, while seats at the bar tend to open up pretty regularly.

Despite the fact that I can vouch for the quality of food coming out of the kitchen, the number one reason to go is still that magical space. The enchantment of candlit, brick-walled walkways opening up into one dim, romantic dining room after another, evokes a subterranean wine cellar feel.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Even the font used for the restaurant name (on plates, knives, menus) harkens to the past, while the straightforward American chophouse menu confirms the old school vibe.

Though nothing here has been revolutionary, an heirloom salad ($15) loaded with yellow and red tomatoes, crispy croutons and thick mozzarella, is fresh, if a little salty, and more artful than expected. A a side of creamed corn ($8) is pretty much Summer goodness encapsulated.

El Paseo floor mosaic at bar entrance

Steaks ($26-29 or $60-90 for two) are juicy, dry-aged (for 38 days) California Holsteins (some come wrapped in bacon). Cravings for beef are satiated. As they are with the Béarnaise burger ($16): medium rare, its tenderness melts between toasted brioche, dripping with caramelized cioppolini onions and Nueske’s bacon.

There’s a worthy wine list, yes, but the one thing missing is a fine Scotch or bourbon/rye cocktail.

All in all, I’d come return again for more meaty, candlit enchantment.

El Paseo’s medium-rare burger

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