Feb
15
2014

Around the Bay

Views from the new Luna Blu in Tiburon

Views from the new Luna Blu in Tiburon

WHERE to EAT NOW: MARIN

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

M.H. Bread & Butter

M.H. Bread & Butter

Suburbs, nature, charming main streets… family-heavy Marin has always had a few culinary gems. But a spare few of them though sandwiched between one of the great food cities of the world and the gustatory pleasures of Napa and Sonoma.

Bakeries like Beth’s Community Kitchen in Mill Valley are reminiscent of San Francisco bakeries (what is now standard Bay Area), while San Rafael’s Ponsford’s Place is a bread and pastry lover’s destination. Just open since June 2013, M.H. Bread & Butter in San Anselmo is the latest and greatest in Marin bakeries, doing classics like quiche and almond croissants right, alongside cookies, traditional French cakes and breads.

New openings and new chefs continue to pop up, some – like those below – worth crossing the bridge for.

Sausalito

SUSHI RAN, 107 Caledonia St, Sausalito, 415-332-3620

Coconut soup

Coconut soup

Amid relative newcomers like Pizzeria Rossetti and Barrel House Tavern, the longtime great Sausalito restaurant, Sushi Ran, recently promoted executive sushi chef Taka Toshi to master chef alongside Executive Chef Scott Whitman. Mitsunori “Nori” Kusakabe, sushi chef since 2004, left in December to open a kaiseki restaurant, Kusakabe, in SF’s Financial District in the former Machka space.

While I am thrilled to see Kusakabe come to the city, I’m delighted to say, having recently returned to Sushi Ran – one of my all-time top sushi restaurants – that it’s still shining with Chefs Whitman and Toshi, under the same ownership of Yoshi Tome.

Vegetable tasting

Vegetable tasting

Ten piece sashimi platters ($32.50) or six piece sushi ($19.50) are sustainable “when possible” and pristine. Rolls/maki are not an afterthought, whether an elevated creamy scallop roll ($10.50) or the crisp of a spicy soft shell crawfish maki ($13.50), enhanced by cucumber, Japanese 7-spice, spicy crab and crawfish legs dramatically kicking out of the top.

Squid

Grilled squid

Non-sushi items are just as much a highlight as raw fish. A cup of corn coconut soup ($4/8), lush with red crab, chive and truffle, goes down like silk. In fine winter form, Fuyu persimmons ($9) are a sweet contrast over crisp kale, marcona almonds, shaved radish, and creamy hunks of Point Reyes Toma cheese.

Wagyu beef carpaccio in wasabi oil

Wagyu beef carpaccio in wasabi oil

Grilled squid ($13) is a bit of revelation, served in a form I haven’t not seen before. A fat tentacle is cut in segments, standing tall like a tower, topped with a grilled sliver of lemon, surrounded by mounds of smoked citrus sabayon (an egg yolk sauce) dusted with pepper powder. This dish stands out, but surprisingly, so do vegetables (generally $7). A vegetable tasting ($12) is the best way to try three of them at once: spiced roasted cauliflower, kale tossed with dates and puffed rice, and kimchee brussels sprouts. Each is spanking fresh, alive with flavor. This is the way to eat your veggies.

Sush Ran’s sake book is extensive and impressive with helpful tasting notes and categorizations. Try unusual beauties like the uniquely funky Amabuki Sunflower by Amabuki Shuzo made with sunflower yeast. Or there’s a dry, clean, almost spring mountain water-esque junmai sake, Man’s Mountain by Oto Koyama. To finish, I love the umami richness of Kiminoi “Emperor’s Well” yamahai junmai ginjo sake.

Sushi Ran's crawfish maki

Sushi Ran’s crawfish maki

F3, 39 Caledonia St. Sausalito, 415-887-9047

Mousse

Chicken liver mousse

Even if the food at Le Garage Bistro never blew me away, the open air patio and water views always felt quintessential Sausalito. From the same owners as Le Garage and L’Appart Resto, Fast Food Francais, aka F3, may be the most realized of the three in terms of the food. It may be “just” a burger restaurant but with additional dishes showcasing French cooking technique, Vespa delivery to locals, friendly service, and solid wine list in a casual space that formerly housed Plate Shop, it’s fast become a town favorite that comforts without sacrificing quality.

Flinstone burger

Flinstone burger

The burger list ($9-14) is certainly a draw, particularly with the likes of the Flinstone, a juicy, bacon aioli and shallot confit-smothered burger, decadently partnered with bone marrow. It’s ideal smeared across the bun. Crispy, shredded duck confit makes up the Quack burger, perky with black pepper chèvre cheese and red onion marmalade.

F3 Cocktails

F3 Cocktails

The Herbivore actually keeps up with those two on its own terms: a flavor-rich patty of French lentils and jasmine rice, subtly spiced with ras el hanout (North African spice mix), marked by yogurt, apple compote and frisée.

All beef used is organic grass fed, lamb is natural in the lamb burger, and a mountain of Brussels sprout chips ($6) dipped in buttermilk are as gratifying as the better versions of fried Brussels leaves elsewhere over the years.

Cocktails are soft and catered towards a suburban crowd with toned-down or thankfully subtle fruit flavors. There’s a range of local and French wines to choose from and a few French-ified starters and small plates like a lush chicken liver mousse ($10) over rustic bread, happily given contrast from sweet golden raisins, pickled red onions and cornichons.

Celebrating it’s one year anniversary this Valentine’s Day, this could be the place to last in a space that has seen a lot of turnover.

LUNA BLU, 35 Main St., Tiburon, 415-789-5844

Outside on Luna Blu's deck

Outside on Luna Blu’s deck

Open barely a month, Luna Blu is not so much about the food as about that stellar Tiburon view over boats and docks, across the Bay to San Francisco. Thankfully, the food isn’t cause for suffering as some unnamed Tiburon restaurants can be. It’s straightforward Italian with “red sauce” dishes like Eggplant Parmigiana ($16) given a “healthy” touch from a smattering of crisp, green peas, or ravioli ($18) filled with pear, decadent in Asiago cheese and walnut cream sauce.

Eggplant parm

Eggplant parm

Though I long for more authentic Sicilian dishes from Taormina-born chef Renzo Azzarello, the warm welcome exuded by Chef Azzarello and his wife, Crystal (from Oxford, England), makes an impression. The two of them came to and fell in love with Tiburon on their honeymoon. They’re back, putting down roots with their own restaurant set to stellar, only-in-the-Bay-Area views.

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Sep
15
2013

Around the Bay

Possibly the best pizza in Marin? (at Farmshop)

Farmshop: the best pizza in Marin?

WHERE to EAT NOW: MARIN

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Farm Fresh Dining

FARMSHOP, Larkspur (2233 Larkspur Landing Circle, 415-755-6700)

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Fresh heirloom tomatoes

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.

Lounge area off the bar

Lounge area off the bar

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.

Currens' cocktails

Currens’ cocktails

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)

Belcampo's butcher shop

Belcampo’s butcher shop

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.

Homey touches in a sleek, modern space

Homey touches in a  modern space

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)

KabaBBQ

KabaBBQ

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.

Soothing space

Soothing space

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.

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Arun’s crispy trout salad

ARUN THAI, Novato (385 Bel Marin Keys Blvd., Novato, 415-883-8017)

Noodles

Drunken noodles

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.

Holy Fishcake!

Holy Fishcake!

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.

Juice It

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.

Photo source: www.urbanremedy.com

Photo source: www.urbanremedy.com

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.

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Jun
15
2013

Around the Bay

Equator Coffee's first cafe in Mill Valley

Equator Coffee’s first cafe in Mill Valley


MARIN TALES: Coffee, Beer, Italian Feasting

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

Join me at three Marin stops in coffee, beer and food, including one newcomer as of this week, another that opened in 2010 – now coming into its own, and one classic that remains great for a decade.

EQUATOR COFFEE at PROOF LAB SURF SHOP, 244 Shoreline Hwy, Mill Valley, 415-209-3733

Strada espresso machine

La Marzocco Strada espresso machine

Equator has long been a favorite Bay Area coffee, with 18 years roasting some of NorCal’s finest beans. I awaited their long-rumored cafe that never opened in San Francisco. Their first cafe arrives, opening June 21st in Mill Valley at Proof Lab Surf Shop. I attended a preview with female owners,        Helen Russell and Brooke McDonnell (Brooke is also the master roaster), who founded Equator in 1995, roasting in a garage for years, then opening their roasting facility in 2003 in San Rafael.

Long having respect for their ethically-sourced, robust coffee, I gained even more after meeting Helen and Brooke. In a male dominated field, it’s inspiring to see humble-yet-savvy business women with such taste for quality, concern for their world, and a pioneering spirit.

Equator is among the first and the only California-based Certified B Corporations, heavy on environmental sustainability and social responsibility, from bio-friendly farming techniques to health and 401k insurance for all their employees. Growing their own plot (200 seeds) of ultra rare (and expensive) Geisha coffee, sometimes referred to as “God in a cup”, they utilize profits towards meaningful contributions like micro-credit loans, and are a coffee of choice for none other than Thomas Keller at The French Laundry.

Gardens with 100% native California plants

Gardens with 100% native California plants

The light-filled, airy cafe is lined with surfboards. Front and back patios are surrounded by greenery from SF’s Flora Grubb Gardens, in a space designed by Boor Bridges Architecture. Making a statement in Equator’s signature red, the building stands out on a busy Mill Valley road across the street from chains like Starbucks and Subway. Proof Lab is a unique community center of classes and activities for youth alongside shops in an alternative retail model. There’s a surf shop, indoor skate ramp, a garden of 100% native California plants, biodiesel fill-up station, music and art labs, a natural backdrop to the Equator cafe.

Artful salad at Mill Valley Beerworks

Artful salad at Mill Valley Beerworks

Equator is serving high end single-origin coffees and espresso drinks made on a La Marzocco Strada espresso machine. Mochas are made with SF’s TCHO chocolate (notable for its “no slavery” mission and scientific approach to flavor profiles in chocolate). Baked goods are delivered fresh daily from nearby Beth’s Community Kitchen (my favorite bakery in the area), and gluten-free, vegan baked goods from Flour Craft Bakery in San Anselmo.

Here’s hoping this might signify more Equator cafes in the future, including one in SF.

Mill Valley Beerworks brewing in-house

Mill Valley Beerworks brewing in-house

MILL VALLEY BEERWORKS173 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley, 415-888-8218

scone

Boysenberry, pistachio, brown sugar scone

Opened in 2010, Mill Valley Beerworks was one of the only places in Marin one could find a draft beer list reminiscent of the range and quality one can find in the city. As it’s now three years old, the restaurant and small brewery has evolved into the place for beer in Marin. Even if there are better local beers, the beer selection on draft alone is worth a detour for beer geeks, ever rotating with beers from Italy and Belgium to Canada and around the US. The bottle selection takes it even further, while house beers are interesting and varied. Local beers are plentiful, too – one might see something like San Francisco’s Almanac Farmers Reserve No. 3, a sour ale brewed with strawberries and nectarines, on draft.

Open faced salmon sandwich

Open faced salmon sandwich

In a narrow, cozy space of dark woods, pressed tin and communal tables (nevermind the somewhat uncomfortable wood stools), food is also of high caliber. Baked goods arrive on a wood slab (or are available for takeout with coffee up front). A warm boysenberry, pistachio, brown sugar scone ($4) is sheer comfort lathered with apricot jam happily contrasted by salted butter. At lunch/brunch (Friday-Sunday only), an open faced cured salmon sandwich ($13) topped with avocado and pickled red onion drizzled in house Thousand Island dressing, boasts pristine, silky salmon. Feel better about downing beer with artful salads like one of lemon cucumbers and roasted beets accented by pickled carrots, creme fraiche and cilantro sprigs ($13).

Beerworks has come into its own, feeling like an oasis for adults in the midst of family-friendly Mill Valley.

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Veal bolognese spinach lasagne at Poggio

POGGIO, Casa Madrona, 777 Bridgeway, Sausalito, 415-332-7771
Sformantino

Sformatino (savory leek custard)

Opened in 2003, Poggio has been an oasis in touristy-yet-dreamy Sausalito. The coastal town that feels like a (rich) Mediterranean village has more mediocre (or worse) restaurants than it does great ones. But Poggio has remained great in its decade of existence, accomplishing that rarity: retaining chefs for years, in the case of Peter McNee who served authentic Northern Italian dishes here for 7 years.

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Dayboat scallops

Poggio has always felt like an escape to Italy in Sausalito. I have memories of sun-splashed weekends lunching open air on fresh sardines and crisp Alto Adige white wines, contrasted by fog laden evenings wrapped in the warmth of Tony’s Negroni (Tony being the restaurant’s longtime barkeep; a Negroni being Italy’s greatest cocktail, and long a ubiquitous San Francisco favorite) and that sigh-worthy house bread baked in rosemary.

House cured prosciutto

House cured prosciutto

Visiting after new Executive Chef Benjamin Balestri came on board earlier this year confirmed quality remains, thankfully still under the guidance of Proprietor Larry Mindel. Young chef Balestri is a Monterey, CA, native who has cooked in Italy and New York City, and was schooled at the CCA (California Culinary Academy), where I used to work.

One warm Spring night, sformatino, a traditional, savory Italian custard – and a starter I feel compelled to order every time I see it on a menu – was a fluffy mound of leek custard paired with English pea puree, mint and ricotta salata ($10). Capesante dayboat scallops ($14) are salty, smooth and golden lined up over sunchoke puree and miners lettuce, punctuated by pancetta and almonds. Though a tad too heavy on the creamy lemon anchovy dressing, gem lettuces ($10) are lush in dressing, garlic and Parmigiano.

Whole roasted fish, fileted tableside

Whole roasted fish, filleted tableside

As it has been historically, strengths at Poggio remain house cured prosciutto – in March I savored meat cured for 24 months (during McNee’s run), delicately shaved and on a platter with pear, almond, arugula and Parmigiano ($14) – and sometimes blissful pastas, like spinach lasagna ($18), lush with bechamel sauce, Parmesan cheese, and veal bolognese, oozing comfort. Feeling transported back to coastal Italy happens when sharing a whole fish, like a roasted sogliola (petrale sole – $29) filleted tableside and served with a side of lemon-soaked artichoke, sunchoke and almond.

Here’s to another 10 years, Poggio.

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Jun
01
2013

Around the Bay

Elegant roadhouse-style fun at Rocker Oysterfeller's

Elegant roadhouse-style fun at Rocker Oysterfeller’s

Roadhouse Perfection

at ROCKER OYSTERFELLER’S

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

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Rocking chairs on Rocker’s front porch

A drive along Tomales Bay is everything I want in a day trip… fresh air, vistas, farmland, grazing horses and sheep, bay, ocean, forest, and a car loaded with just the right music.

Rocker Oysterfeller’s in the tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Valley Ford with the warm, comfortable spirit of a roadhouse turned foodie, with fresh, farmland ingredients and the best cocktails for many miles around.

The namesake plays on the dish Oysters Rockerfeller, which they serve using oysters pulled straight from nearby Tomales Bay, baked with bacon, cream cheese and cornbread crumbs (6 for $14). It’s a classic New Orleans dish created by 1800′s restaurant Antoine’s. How can I help but adore the creamy, briny appetizer created in 1899? Though Rocker’s version works, our server rightly steered me to her favorite oyster dish, doused in Louisiana hot sauce and garlic butter with local Estero Gold cheese melted on top. Dreamy.

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Oysters Rockefeller

Greens go down easy in a salad of nearby Bloomfield Farms‘ romaine, shaved Achadinha Capricious cheese (from Petaluma) and white anchovies in a Creole Caesar dressing ($10). A Cajun-style seafood and andouille sausage gumbo ($8/$12) is comforting on a fog-soaked day. Entree joys peak with buttermilk fried free-range chicken ($20) in a Lagunitas Ale and caraway gravy over mashed potatoes with a smattering fried cilantro and sage.

All this goes down beautifully with classic cocktails (like a Margarita, Sazerac, Vieux Carre) made from Northern California craft spirits like a lovely Pimm’s Cup ($9) mixing Pimm’s No. 1, ginger beer, cucumber, seasonal fruit, and topped with a float of Anchor’s Junipero Gin, or a Creole Sidecar ($12) mixing Germain Robin Fine Alembic Brandy with a Creole shrub.

Rocker Oysterfeller’s garnered a bit of buzz when it first opened in 2007, and I’m pleased to say it’s still worth a detour.

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Buttermilk fried chicken in Lagunitas ale & caraway gravy

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Written by in: Around the Bay | Tags:
Jan
01
2012

Around the Bay

WINTER WEEKEND ESCAPES:
NICK’S COVE, Tomales Bay

Nick's Cove and their signature red car parked in front of the restaurant

Glowing fire pit along the Bay

Once off the 101, it’s a winding trek via country lanes to Tomales Bay. On the shores of the Bay with its outlet to the Pacific Ocean visible in the distance, sits Nick’s Cove. Nick’s is a settlement built in the 1930′s with cottages and a restaurant on pilings over the Bay. There’s little else nearby; even cabins across the street are part of Nick’s. The cozy little row of cottages and main house reflect a boating, fishing spirit reflecting a history of hard-working folks who built the structures.

A well-stocked, in-cottage liquor cabinet

Bay views from Nick's

I’m a regular traveler, globally and nationally, even having stayed in Tomales Bay before. I can say Nick’s Cove is one of of my favorite places I’ve ever stayed. Upon arrival on a crisp, clear winter’s night, I felt immediately transported to somewhere far, far away… not merely one hour from my home in the city but to quiet, soothing shores.

Nick’s restaurant sits at the edge of a pier lit up by Christmas lights with a quirky Boat Shack perched at its end. In-shack telephones and menus allow you to call up the restaurant for food and drinks, as you lounge under the gaze of a diving mask evoking 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I could linger here for quite some time.

Inviting king size bed in Al's cottage

Homey, warm Al's cottage

Stepping inside my cottage (I stayed in “Al”), elicited a sigh of delight. The space emits that warm glow of home, but with the comforts of a posh hotel.

From the cozy cabin is a view of the Bay and pier, while knotty, wood walls remind me of my grandpa’s home of over 60 years. Fishing poles, vintage photos, and a comfy, brown leather couch decorate the living room next to a wood-burning stove.

Vintage fixtures & heated tiles in roomy bathroom

There’s a breakfast and a coffee table and a cabinet hiding a TV (from which I played classic Loretta Lynn, Gene Autry, and George Jones tunes on a traditional country music station ideally suited to the space). A wood hutch is lined with bottles of spirits, like Bulleit Bourbon and vermouth. One could make their own Manhattan or basic cocktail. Nice touch.

Wood walls & decor remind me of my grandfather's house

Boat shack at the end of the pier

Through the tiny living room is a bedroom with inviting, king-sized bed, plump pillows and vintage lamps.

A roomy bathroom is delightfully old school, with clawfoot tub, classic floor tiles that are heated (praise be!), and vintage sink.

Inside the Boat Shack

Most importantly, from our private deck (visible to neighboring cottage decks), the water’s gentle lapping underneath lulled me into rest.

There’s internet and TV, but you don’t need it.

Here you feel hundreds of miles from stress and pressure, nestled between the hills and blue water of Tomales Bay.

View from our cottage deck

FOOD & DRINK

Bone marrow artistry

There aren’t many options on these isolated shores of Highway 1. But thankfully you only need one and it’s literally a few feet from your cabin or cottage. Nick’s Cove restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with drinks and bar bites by the roaring brick fireplace in the bar, or water views from just about every table.

The shocker is that despite the seafaring paraphernalia and all day menus, there’s little kitschy or touristy about the food. In fact, I was surprised to find it damn good, particularly in the case of a brilliant off-menu chef’s special of a seared scallop atop a red rice cake in a curry sauce. A dish like this makes me intrigued to see what else the young, talented executive chef, Austin Perkins, can do.

Hearty, gourmet cioppino

Mountain of crab meat in risotto

Meanwhile, there’s a heaping pile of fritto misto ($14): delicately fried calamari and rock cod tossed with sweet potato, fennel and lemon peel. I won’t complain about pumpkin arancini ($12) with maple-cinnamon sour cream to dip those fried squash balls in.

Roaring fireplace inside restaurant bar

On the non-fried tip, Dungeness Crab Risotto ($21) is generously laden with crabmeat – maybe as much crab as rice. Crispy yams, pancetta and Parmesan cheese dot the mountain o’ crab. Under entrees, fish specials of the day are a key way to go though there’s also wood-roasted ribeye ($29), braised lamb shanks ($23), and rabbit pappardelle ($23).

** Rates run anywhere from $225-$790 a night depending on season, cottage vs. cabin, and size of cabin. Take note of Nicolina, a darling, little boat on stilts, like a cozy captain’s berth.

View of the restaurant and cottages from the pier

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Dec
15
2011

On the Town

ON THE DAIRY FARM

On a recent misty morning in Point Reyes, then inland for a Petaluma afternoon, I visited two of our most beloved creameries. The damp earth of a dairy farm in dark, early hours is oddly intoxicating, while sampling fresh cheese in various stages of ripening is sheer pleasure. These dairies make me proud of the familial, forward-thinking, humane food practices that have been going strong in the Bay Area for decades from pioneers such as these.

Straus Family Creamery

Sweet baby cow Eve

One look in the eyes of cows at Straus Family Creamery and you’re changed. If you did not care care where your milk came from, you do now. Petting baby cows, tagged with names such as Wilma or Eve (above), you become attached, even protective, of these peaceable animals. It inspires hope to see cows treated as well as they are here, a rarity in the mainstream dairy market.

Cows ready to be milked in the early morning hours

Organic before it became a “trend”, Bill Straus began farming this coastal Point Reyes land in 1941 with 23 cows (there’s now over 300 milk cows). His wife Ellen read Rachel Carson’s game-changing Silent Spring in the ’60′s, mobilizing them both in lifelong commitment to environmental sustainability. They were the first certified organic dairy farm west of the Mississippi in 1994, leading in sustainable farming practices.

Early on a soft, grey weekday, I trekked up to the farm via scenic winding roads, not unlike those of the Scottish Highlands I’d just returned from a day before. Directly on Tomales Bay, the farm rolls down to the shore, often foggy in the mornings, with sun peeking through by afternoon. The air smells funky with cows, yes, but also bracingly of earth, water, grass.

Hanging with the cows on the Straus Farm

Albert Straus shows us around the farm

Bill and Ellen’s son Albert Straus now runs the farm. Majoring in dairy science, he launched their ice cream line (he’s a real aficionado), continuing to grow Straus Creamery in sustainable practices like composting solids and waste to fertilize their land (or that of nearby biodynamic wineries).

Straus keeps a “closed herd” so no infection/disease gets transported to the cows. While he works with 300 milking cows, he’s simultaneously raising 250 young cows who begin milking after two years.

There’s not a lot of profit to be made allowing the natural process  vs. increasing milk flow by injecting cows with hormones. It is heartening to see those like Straus, who care more about the quality and health of the product for consumers, along with the animals and their land, than the bottom line. But this level of care costs.

Precious baby cows

As prices of basics like grain and production have gone up at least 25% in the last couple of years alone, there’s now even less to gain by doing it “right.” But Straus presses on, under standards for organic farm certification that are stricter than for any food product. Straus is pleased to note that organic farms in Marin and Sonoma now make up around 50% of those counties’ farms, indicating the area as an industry leader (learn more about the organization formed in part by Albert and Sue Conley of Cowgirl Creamery, Marin Organic, now celebrating 10 years and responsible for promoting much of the region and industry’s growth).

With a mission to maintain and preserve family farms, Albert is willing to take risks and try new approaches: “Most farmers are pretty risk averse, but I seem to continue to go the other way,” he laughs. Coming from a family line of risk-takers in dairy farming, we all gratefully reap the benefits.

Greetings from the Straus herd

Cowgirl Creamery

Fresh Mt. Tam cheeses in various stages of age from hours old to 32 days

A day spent with Cowgirl Creamery founders, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, among the finest cheesemakers in the country, is a delight. With close ties to the Straus family (they not only source milk from Straus, but Sue was in part inspired to launch Cowgirl by her relationship with the Strauses).

Both from rich culinary backgrounds, Peg and Sue created highly-lauded cheeses like that triple-cream dream, Mt. Tam, and earthy, unique Red Hawk. Their shop in SF’s Ferry Building is a cheese destination, with production now mainly in a larger creamery in Petaluma (a town boasting other major creameries like Clover and Cowgirl’s building neighbor, Three Twins).

Peggy Smith leads us through the Petaluma facility

"Washing the curd" by hand from the pasteurizer before brining

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They produce ten different cheeses, seven in Petaluma, and three in their original (smaller) Point Reyes facility.

Peg notes that in Europe keeping cheeses regionally uniform (like Camembert in Camembert, France, for example) means strict style regulations. “We are lucky to have such great variety of cheeses here,” she says, claiming freedom of experimentation led to some of their most popular cheeses.

Besides an idyllic lunch at Sue’s house, the day’s high point came in sampling Mt. Tam in numerous states of age, from hours’ old, just-brined, tasting salty-sour-tart, to a meaty, acidic phase at seven days, finishing with a creamy, nutty thirty-two day Mt. Tam (it is usually sold in the mid 20-30 day ranges).

Schedule a tour of Cowgirl (tours resume in the Spring) or Straus farm (group tours only), and you may come away as I did, with an increased appreciation for cheese, cows, our diverse region, and the artisans who strive to create the best… and change the world while they’re at it.

Cowgirl Creamery warehouse in Petaluma

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Written by in: On the Town | Tags:
Nov
15
2011

On the Town

View from the Headlands Center for the Arts tucked in the Marin Headlands

Insects & Mezcal Dinner

DON BUGITO DINNER at HEADLANDS CENTER for the ARTS, Marin

Edible Insects menu

Nestled near the ocean in the wilds of the Marin Headlands sits Headlands Center for the Arts, an artists’ haven in a reclaimed military barracks that is inspiring just to be in, as it must be for its artists in residence. Known for the culinary care and special event meals they host in their warm, open kitchen and dining room, I was intrigued to check it out. So what better excuse than for a five course insect and mezcal dinner?

You heard right. Don Bugito, a new La Cocina business that premiered at SF Street Food Festival this August (which I wrote about here, in my SF Bay Guardian column, and Grubstreet), hosted this unique meal.

Paired with Mexican juices, a take on the Michelada (a beer and spice-based imbibement), and the Mission’s De La Paz Coffee, the drink highlight was San Honesto Mezcal, a bright, grassy, gently smoky mezcal that is not yet available in the US but should be by early next year.

Sipping San Honesto mezcal with 3 insect salts

Having eaten mealworms and wax moth larvae with Don Bugito before, I was hoping for even further challenges at this meal. As an intro to bugs, the textures and tastes of the five insects served were inoffensive (yes, even to those who fear bugs), even tasty, proving the points made in a pre-dinner educational session: eating insects is nutritional, ecological and sustainable. One could see this being a micro movement in urban centers such as ours, just as beekeeping and urban farming have been.

Don Bugito owner, Monica Martinez, says, “Our goal is not to introduce insects as a novelty, but as something that will last.” I’d say with the palatable insect-tinged dinner we experienced, she is introducing an approachable, realistic way to eat insects.

The Headlands Center’s next dining event is December 7, a speakeasy-style, small plates cocktail party with cocktails from the incomparable Bon Vivants.

Upstairs space at Headlands Center for the Arts

Interactive exhibits describe tastes of various insects

Snacking w/ insects: crispy mealworms & bug-laden popcorn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Course: Anahuac (cricket) salad over jicama, sweet potato, pumpkin seeds, in pumpkin lime vinaigrette

1st Course: Escamoles (buttery ant larvae), Mexican zucchini, blue corn tortilla w/ avocado

I adore Oaxacan chocolate – particularly w/ espresso (De La Paz) & San Honesto mezcal

3rd Course (my favorite): corn custard with wax moth larvae, spicy tomato broth, crispy cordyceps (fungi)

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Written by in: On the Town | Tags:
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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Written by in: Around the Bay | Tags: , , ,

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