Monday, February 11, 2013

Dining in West Marin County

West Marin County is a place treasured by locals but less known by visitors from afar.  Blessed with dairy farms on rolling green hills, spectacular views of the Pacific and Tomales Bay, abundant wildlife, and miles of hiking trails, West Marin is a favorite weekend getaway for San Franciscans.  However, this part of the Bay Area, which produces artisan cheeses and organic milk, beef, fruits, and vegetables used in restaurants throughout the Bay Area, is not known for its fine dining.

Two of the better restaurants are now gone:  Manka's and the Olema Inn's restaurants.  The latter may reopen later this year under new ownership.

Last weekend I had a chance to visit two of the newer restaurants on the West Marin dining scene. I was pleasantly surprised by dinner at Saltwater in Inverness, a village on the shore of Tomales Bay.  We started with the freshest raw oysters that probably came out of the bay earlier in the day.  Saltwater offers a dozen oysters and a glass of wine for $30, less than most places charge for the oysters alone.  Our mains were porcini crusted sturgeon and roasted lamb shank, both of which were very good.  The menu is small with about six appetizers plus raw and cooked oysters, six entrees, and four pizzas.  Similarly, the wine list is small with interesting wines from California and a few from around the world. If you are visiting West Marin, I'd head to Saltwater.  The restaurant is not very big, so a reservation is recommended, especially on weekends.

Osteria Stellina, in Point Reyes Station, opened a few years ago to very good reviews, but I was a bit disappointed.  I found the service a bit rushed and the food nothing special.  I had risotto with crab but I was hard pressed to taste any crab in the dish.  My wife enjoyed her thin crust pizza but I wouldn't go out of my way for it.  Lastly, I found that the chef had a heavy hand with pepper as most dishes, including the olive oil, were spicy when they didn't need to be.  Given the good reviews, I'd give the restaurant another shot.

While options for good dinner are limited, West Marin is home to two good bakeries:  Busy Bee Bakery in Inverness and Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station.  Both are worth a visit.  If you love oysters, try the Marshall General Store along the east bank of Tomales Bay for lunch.  Here you can get great raw, barbecued, Rockefellered, and other cooked oysters.  The menu has other items that look delicious but we always go for the oysters.  If you want to pick up food for a picnic or want great cheese, stop by Tomales Bay Foods in Point Reyes Station.

Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel offers private tours to beautiful West Marin County.  If you would like to take one, contact us at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Excellent Scandinavian Food in Civic Center

Potato dumplings, smoked salmon, herring, venison, Swedish meatballs, and many other Scandinavian-inspired dishes are among your dinner choices at Plaj (pronounced "play"), a six-month old restaurant in Civic Center.  Foods are grouped according to their origin:  earth (vegetables), sea, and land.  Small and large plates are offered, making sharing easy.  

Being intrigued by all of the different flavors, we opted to share 3 small plates and one large dish.  Everything was delicious.  My wife, who loves lobster, was especially fond of the poached lobster with caviar, avocado, horseradish, and chili.  We were too full to try any of the intriguing desserts.

Plaj has an extensive selection of Scandinavian beers; mostly in the bottle with a couple on tap.  There's also a good list of Scandinavian-inspired cocktails as well as spirits from Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.  The wine list is small but adequate.

Plaj is located at 333 Fulton Street; close to the Opera House, Symphony Hall, and the new SF Jazz Center.  If you're attending a concert or performance at one of these venues, Plaj is a good spot for a pre-show dinner.  The kitchen is open until 10:30 on Sundays through Thursdays and 11:00 on Fridays and Saturdays, so you can dine after your show on weekends.

For something  a little different, give Plaj a try.  You won't be disappointed.