WHERE to EAT NOW: MARIN
Photos and article by Virginia Miller
Farm Fresh Dining
FARMSHOP, Larkspur (2233 Larkspur Landing Circle, 415-755-6700)
A modern day farmshop… the beloved LA restaurant, Farmshop, opened in 2010, and then, to be closer to the farmers from which they meticulously source much of their produce in Northern California, they opened a Larkspur location in May 2013. It’s suburban-chic, set in an open air, upscale shopping mall with outdoor patio, spacious dining room near an open hearth and bustling kitchen, and a long, sleek bar. And it’s all a short jaunt from the ferry.
Quality, seasonal ingredients stand out, like perfect heirloom tomatoes ($7.50) tossed with anchovy bread crumbs in a salsa criolla, or a wood fired California tomatoes pizza ($15) dotted with ramini mozzarella di bufala, Parmesan, basil, olive oil and sea salt. I’ve long appreciated Pizzeria Picco – this may join (or even surpass) as the best pizza in Marin County.
While I’ve faced a miss here (manchini spaghetti busta with overly funky sea urchin), twists on basic staples like hummus are interesting, their version being made from Rancho Gordo green chickpeas ($12) contrasted by pickled bing cherries and black sesame seeds. Strengths are apparent in simplicity, letting impeccable produce shine.
Bar Manager Amy Currens succeeds in making Farmshop one of the best places to drink in a county with few options for the cocktail/spirits aficionado. She sources local California spirits in cocktails like a vibrant First Sunday ($13), mixing St. George’s Botanivore gin, absinthe verte, lemon and thyme, or pouring fascinating, small label, local wines like 2012 Bedrock “Ode to Lulu” ($11), a Mourvèdre, Carignane, Grenache blend from Sonoma. On a hot day, a silky Lamill (from LA) organic masala chai latte ($6) is ideal iced, alive with Indian assam, cinnamon, ginger, green cardamom.
BELCAMPO MEAT, Larkspur (2405 Larkspur Landing Circle, 415-448-5810)
Launching in 2012, Belcampo is the sort of business model all restaurants and food shops would have in an idealized world: its own sustainable system of farms supplying organic produce and humanely treated animals.
Farms in Belize, Uruguay and Nor Cal supply their impeccable butcher shop, while they make and grow their own olive oil, coffee, cacao, grapes and cattle.
In their Larkspur restaurant, butcher and gourmet foods shop (the same complex housing Farmshop), simple and seasonal dishes work best, like an heirloom bean and avocado salad ($6) mixed with roasted peppers, basil, olive oil. Sourcing their own animals, they are heavy on the meat with burgers, pulled pork, chili con carne, French Dip and juicy pork-beef meatballs ($12) in tomato cream sauce. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Belcampo marries casual with impeccablehigh quality.
Mediterranean & Thai Perfection
KABABBQ, San Rafael (555 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, 415-256-9878)
Casual Persian/Iranian food with California fresh ingredients? In Marin this combo is found at KabaBBQ, easily the best Mediterranean food in Marin.
Right off the 101 freeway in a nondescript strip mall, the dining room is soothing, pleasant, and turns out wraps worth grabbing on a drive north to Wine Country. I’m partial to Ali’s Special wrap ($8), packed with hummus, feta, tomatoes, greens and herbs, tahini paste and hot sauce.
While I find salads underwhelming, there’s a range of pleasing kabob platters ($11-20), from lamb leg to Cornish hen. I was strangely drawn to a simple Persian burger ($5), even when multiple koobideh (Iranian minced meat kabab of ground lamb and beef) kept falling out of a soft sesame bun. The burger is topped only with mayo, lettuce, tomato and raw onion, but somehow the whole is oddly gratifying.
ARUN THAI, Novato (385 Bel Marin Keys Blvd., Novato, 415-883-8017)
Arun is one of the more creative Thai restaurants in the entire Bay Area. Authentic Thai restaurants are a dime a dozen in San Francisco, but what I like about Arun, nondescript in ultra-suburban Novato, is that the Thai owners offer welcome twists and interpretations of the traditional, inspired after shopping in local farmers markets, while remaining loyal to regional Thai flavors.
It’s refreshing to move beyond the expected into vibrantly flavorful daily specials like Holy Fishcake! ($9), cakes of lady fish, house curry paste, kaffir limes leaves, green beans and Thai holy basil, a rare basil only available in Summer. The clincher is a vivid, perky kaffir lime sauce to drizzle over the cakes.
I wish a special of crispy trout salad ($14) could be a regular fixture. A whole, deboned trout is lightly fried, crispy over generous mixed greens, cashews, and Thai herbs. Again, what I value most is the no-holds-barred approach to flavor. Instead of a demure salad or bland fish, it’s well executed and of quality in its own right, but pops in a dressing alive with lemongrass and kaffir lime.
While popular drunken noodles ($8.50-14, depending on meat/seafood chosen) were a bit oily and not as gratifying as many Thai noodle dishes from my months in Thailand or at my favorite Thai restaurants nationwide, unique specials are the reason to go here. Another memorable special might be a generous salmon filet ($16) in yellow curry laden with potato, carrot, onion, and sweet cherry tomatoes.
URBAN REMEDY, San Rafael (1904 4th St., San Rafael, 415-786-8011; and a new location in Mill Valley, 15 E. Blithedale Ave., 415-383-5300)
Urban Remedy seems a bit of an odd name in the middle of the suburbs but not being far from the city, and yet another addition in the ever growing category of cold pressed juice shops, it is a respite of healthful cleansers and gluten free snacks.
In keeping with other cold pressed juice shops, this is far from the hippie juice shops of a decades past. It’s sleek, modern and delicious. Even snacks, like paper thin cacao brittle made from organic banana, coconut, cacao, sprouted almonds, vanilla, Himalayan sea salt and cinnamon, please those of us who embrace gluten.
Pressed juices are 100% organic and among the better I’ve tasted at the many similar shops opening from SF to LA. The day’s vegetable quotient can be had in an astringent but refreshing Dynamo loaded with kale, celery, cucumber, parsley, spinach, dandelion greens, lemon. I particularly like Cacao Mint Almond Milk, a soft, creamy blend of sprouted almond, cacao, essential oil of peppermint, date paste, vanilla bean powder, pink sea salt, maca root powder and ionized water.