First Taste: Nick's Cove


There’s been a buzz about the opening of Nick’s Cove on the Eastern reaches of Tomales Bay for years. For a spot that was conceived in the 1930s as a fishing settlement and later as a tourist destination, designer Pat Kuleto (Boulevard, Fog City Diner, Jardiniere and Farallon, all in San Francisco) and chef Mark Franz (Farallon) redid the rustic roadhouse while retaining its warmth and handsome original bones. The team endured years of red tape involving permits and the protests of environmental groups. It turns out that a creek running though the property is home to the endangered Red-Legged Frog, which ended up being protected to the tune of $2 million in legal fees.

Now, finally, the bayside restaurant is open. It’s a destination to city and Marin County types and to locals who are showing up for the bar scene and food. Kuleto and Franz, both avid fishermen, have retained the feel of an old hunting/fishing lodge, with lots of stone and wood and the odd animal head protruding from the walls. You almost expect the restrooms to have signs that say “Buoys and Gulls,” but the owners show restraint, stopping short of kitsch.

The menu starts by offering Hog Island Oysters (barbequed and on the half shell) Dungeness Crab (in season), steamed mussels and clams, and a creamy, unadulterated New England clam chowder. The delicate halibut sashimi is served with an ingeniously simple combination of lime, onion, and local McEvoy olive oil. For a main course, the English sole had quite a bit going on for an order that is usually on the lean side, with cole slaw, roasted potatoes, and a rich tartar sauce all clamoring for one’s attention. A local wild salmon came with a basil-walnut pesto that was a tiny bit too rich for the unctuous fish, which was nevertheless bright and briny. The local pork chop, served with a peach chutney and crumbly cornbread was delicious and grounded.

As it tends to be around here, the food is about 70 percent local and seasonal. Chocolate is usually on the dessert menu, for us in the form of a Ranger Cookie Ice Cream Chocolate Sundae, seasonal fruit combinations, such as a red plum galette or a sabayon topped with berries, round out the menu. The bar has become a gathering place for locals and is appropriately spirited—as are the good, strong drinks.

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