Monday, October 10, 2005

Novato Trifecta

Last month I wrote about a couple of meals at restaurants in a town north of mine. I wanted to eat at yet one more restaurant up there that's getting good ink, but due to a bunch of, uh, "stuff," didn't get to try it until today.
And it was good.
So. In Novato, I can recommend:
1) Boca, for meat. There's not much else on the menu anyway, although don't pass up the duck fat french fries. The empanadas appetizers are good too. Salads are perfectly edible. Oh, and I liked the squash blossom soup, too; very creamy. I tried sweetbreads as well as roasted shrimp on my first visit (what was I thinking?) but the grilled hanger steak on my return was killer: smoky, juicy, dark on the outside and pink in the middle. Some of the meat on the menu is grain-finished, and some is grass-fed.
I wasn't certain I'd return for a second meal, but we went with friends who wanted to eat there. And I'm glad I went back.
2) Kitchen, for retro food with stellar refinement — and yet the place is small and homey — and yet smashingly decorated — on a budget. I mean decorated on a budget, though meal prices are not bad (and there's an early-bird dinner special!). For lunch I had a salad of fresh Oregon shrimp, with avocado and lots of tarragon. Too much at first, in fact, but then my mouth fell in love with it. The shrimp was presented in a sort of mini cake pan-mold piled shape, real "ladies' lunch" (forgot my white gloves!), next to a mesclun salad with good dressing. Cranky had a nifty Cobb salad, updated by presenting the chicken as a whole warm roasted leg atop the cornball (but pristine) salad ingredients of tomato, bacon, egg, etc. We haven't tried dinner yet, but the menu (changes daily) offers things like carrot-ginger soup, grilled salmon, and house-cured pork chop. Ingredients are locally sourced as much as possible, and treated very nicely. Definitely going back.
3) Rickey's, for stylish comfort food. Rickey's is part of a casual-elegant country inn-motel-type place right on 101, so I just avoided it on principle. What a dope. We finally went in one hot summer day, to sip a gin and tonic by the pool. As we walked through the restaurant, we noticed the interior is stunning: Craftsman style furniture, white tablecloths, a fireplace. The menu looked really promising — but I took the advice of a fellow local blogger who disliked a brunch there, and skipped the food. Until today. I had a chicken pot pie that tasted deeply of sage and je ne sais quoi (and I'm usually pretty good at cracking a recipe's secret ingredients, but I was stumped). Full disclosure: some of the vegetables were undercooked. Not just al dente, but undercooked. But I loved the taste of the pie, topped with a disc of puff pastry, so much that it didn't matter! Cranky had the best meatloaf I've ever eaten, studded with onion and carrots.
Goin' back for sure.
Look, restaurant reviewing is really hard. So, no phone numbers, addresses, stars, no chefs' name-dropping. And I wouldn't call these squibs reviews anyway, since I've only been to each place once or twice.
But I'm thrilled to see good dining come to North Marin — which, come to think of it, sort of puts South Marin to shame, somewhat, given its demographics.
I think the point I'd rather make is that a successful restaurant meal sometimes depends on the diner's ability to analyze a menu. You can't realistically go to a restaurant and complain that it doesn't make what you want. You have to want what they make! You just need to figure out what it is that they make really well. At a steakhouse, eat steak. At a retro-food joint, have the Cobb Salad (and Kitchen is so retro-savvy, the menu specifies "Robert H. Cobb Salad (1926) with Brown Derby Dressing"). And at a comfort-food place, well... get the idea? Pot pie. Meatloaf.
You simply have to understand the menu.
PS: The credit for each photo belongs to the individual restaurants. I lifted 'em off their Web sites.


Greg said...

Headline.. Cookiecrumb drops big bucks in Novato.Great job! Three restaurants in one post! I wish I had your energy.You rest and drink plenty of liquids now. G sips Irish coffee when resting.

Jennifer said...

So you've been hanging out in my neighborhood! Kitchen had short ribs with truffled mashed potatoes on the dinner menu last week - they were SO GOOD that I nearly swooned. Glad that you had a good experience at Rickey's - the brunch I had there was honestly so bad that I resolved never to go again, but maybe I should give it another try. Viva Novato!

cookiecrumb said...

Greg: Bigger bucks than I can afford. It was my treat to take our real estate agent and his wife to dinner, because he's been sooo good to us. (Energy? It took me from September to October to get it done! :D)
Jennifer: Y'know, brunch at a restaurant with a motel and a pool --- probably gonna be way too mediocre. I wish you luck with the dinner menu, though, and let me know! Joanna Karlinsky (of Meetinghouse, Hotel
Utah) is, I believe, cooking there now.

Jennifer Maiser said...

Karlinsky's coming back to SF - she is now a co-owner of Elite Cafe on Fillmore. Wonder if that will change Rickey's.

cookiecrumb said...

Aw, nuts. I wasn't even eating her food, was I? Still her menu, though. For now.
Thanks for the tip, Jennifer, and I probably already read that about her moving on (GraceAnn had it, right?) but I didn't recognize her name... :P

Jennifer Maiser said...

I'm with you on forgetting stuff that's in that column. It goes in one ear and out the other with me unless I have a direct connection to the restaurant. My relationship with Elite Cafe? Well, it's about 4 blocks from our house, and we have boycotted it for a couple years because there is an absolute a**hole of a bartender there who has made our experiences there miserable. We are anxiously awaiting the reopening to see if he is still there.

cookiecrumb said...

I think I know that ***hole. He's nice to us, though, because he fawns on Cranky. (Star****er.)