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.