According to Michael Bauer, the San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic, five of the 2014 Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants are in Marin County. They are El Paseo in Mill Valley, Farmshop and Picco in Larkspur, Poggio and Sushi Ran in Sausalito.
Ever since he published the first guide nineteen years, compiling the list has remained an ongoing project for Bauer, and one he does not take lightly. From Los Gatos to Calistoga and everywhere in between, he visits thousands of places and awards a spot on the list to restaurants he has visited a minimum of three times. How does he do it? He dines out every night – sometimes consuming two or three dinners in an evening – checking out new restaurants and returning to those he’s previously reviewed. Wow!
This year, he added 20 new restaurants to the Top 100 list, including Farmshop and Picco (which had been on the list previously several years back.)
Each year, when Michael Bauer finally finishes the list, he says he reawakens to the fact that dining in the Bay Area is so rich. It’s inarguably one of the best places to eat in the United States, and maybe the world. I could not agree more! How about you? I just wish we had more top restaurants in Marin for special occasions. For casual dinners out, however, we do have a great selection of wonderful restaurants that might not have made Mr. Bauer’s list, but are pretty good in my book.
El Paseo – Mill Valley – Photo Courtesy of SF Chronicle
EL PASEO HOUSE OF CHOPS – MILL VALLEY, CA – According to Bauer, El Paseo, which has been in business since 1948, is a gem, and even if the food wasn’t so good it would be worth a visit because it captures the spirit of Marin. A brick walkway connects a series of outdoor and indoor rooms that seem to flow into one another. The restaurant was carefully reinvented and reopened in March 2011 by rocker Sammy Hagar and chef Tyler Florence, who also owns the wildly popular Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco. It calls itself a chophouse, but the menu also offers a variety of main courses: pan-roasted duck breast accented with cauliflower; red snapper with quinoa and mussels, and seared chicken breast with the smoked leg. I have not been in years, but reading Bauer’s review made me want to revisit the quaint building and try the revamped menu.
Farmshop – Larkspur – Photo courtesy of Farmshop
FARMSHOP MARIN – LARKSPUR, CA – Chef/owner Jeff Cerciello, longtime chef of Bouchon in Yountville, offers dishes that showcase a direct link to the producers. According to Michael Bauer, the food is every bit as good as it is in the original and very successful Farmshop in Santa Monica. Bauer puts the chicken ($27) right up there with the Zuni Cafe signature–I am not sure I would agree, but it sure is very tasty.. Located in the Marin Country Mart, Farmshop Marin sits a stone’s throw from the Larkspur Landing ferry dock offering up a full-flavored experience with style and comfort. I particularly enjoy lunch in the spacious fenced patio overlooking the shopping complex. The bar has to be the longest I have seen, seating over twenty in a row. Like the Country Mart complex itself, Farmshop has become part of the fabric of the community. Plus, it’s so close to the ferry landing–you can walk over Sir Francis Drake and be there in two minutes– and Highway 101 that it’s a good stopping point for anyone coming or going to San Francisco. It looks as if Farmshop is destined to become a local restaurant for the entire Bay Area.
Picco – Larkspur – Photo by S. Zolezzi
PICCO, LARKSPUR, CA – Back on the list as.Jared Rogers, a 2014 Chronicle Rising Star, and pastry chef Jeannette Taylor have brought Bruce Hill’s 9-year-old Picco back to top form, according to Bauer, making it one of the area’s best casual restaurants. Hill is also the master behind Zero Zero, Bix and the new Fog City in San Francisco. The 30-plus-item menu is weighted to small plates, and there are loads of vegetable options such as wok-roasted broccoli di ciccio with toasted garlic, chile and preserved lemon; and spinach sformato with black truffle, olives and fennel salad. Favorites include the Kampachi crudo, avocado bruschetta and mini burgers. The restaurant features a handsome beamed ceiling, brick walls and large windows that open on to a front patio. The pizzeria next door offers, in my humble opinion, the best pies in the Bay Area, especially the Margarita and the Marin. The Strauss Valley soft ice cream is also worth a trip!
Poggio, Sausalito – Photo courtesy of OurSausalito.com
POGGIO – SAUSALITO, CA – Under Chef Balesteri, who took over from Chef Peter McNee in 2013, the restaurant remains one of Bauer’s favorite spots in Marin. From the rich marble and mahogany interior with large windows that can be thrown open to let in the marina breezes and the Bay view to the soulful Italian-inspired food, it offers a superior dining experience in a magical setting, especially on warm summer nights. The menu features pizza (cooked in the wood-burning oven,) eight different pasta dishes, home made charcuterie (think house made prosciutto paired with locally grown melon!) and a great selection of main courses or “secondi” that include the always exceptional grilled chicken ($22); steak alla Fiorentina, a porterhouse grilled over oak that’s designed to serve two or three ($69); and meat loaf ($17) braised in tomato sauce, which has been on the menu since the restaurant opened. Another draw is the service; it’s where Mindel’s years of experience pay off. He founded the Il Fornaio chain but wanted to open a more personal restaurant near his home. Poggio offers some of the most professional service in a casual restaurant in the Bay Area. By the way, Il Fornaio is a great favorite of mine: never disappointing and one of the best values in Marin. As a bonus, Poggio is dog friendly.
Sushi Ran, Sausalito – Photo Courtesy of Sushi Ran
SUSHI RAN – SAUSALITO, CA – Last but certainly not least on our list of the five best restaurants in Marin is Sushi Ran. Owned by Yoshi Tome since 1986, it is the best of the five in my book and has been our destination for our wedding anniversary for years. With a top Bay Area restaurant ranking from both Michelin and the Zagat Survey, three stars from SF Chronicle Food Critic Michael Bauer, and presidency of the Northern California Japanese Restaurant Association, Yoshi is one of Northern California’s most respected restaurateurs (and he happens to be a very nice person as well.) This exceptional Japanese restaurant offers a great selection of creative cooked dishes–the Miso glazed cod is a big favorite–and outstanding sushi and sashimi. I would agree with Zagat’s description of a “classy” restaurant that is “always busy” yet somehow “always seems peaceful.” I love the adjacent wine bar with its deep sake list that helps take your mind off the “pricey” tabs. .