By Carey Sweet
E ditor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do .
When celebrity chef Bobby Flay visited Nick's Cove last November for his television show, he compared the oysters served there to Viagra-on-the-half-shell. He also had this to say about the views of Tomales Bay, upon which waters the little restaurant literally sits: They "aren't bad."
Even if his words were hardly eloquent, it's a conclusion that diners at Nick's may find themselves repeating. Because as sumptuous as the setting is—smack on the shoulder of the skinny, winding Highway 1, framed by towering eucalyptus/redwood/rolling hills and with the lovingly and expensively renovated historic building sprawling out to pylons above the Pacific—the food can quickly overpower with its significant charms.
Indeed, a friend and I set the specific time of sunset to meet for dinner one recent evening, to take in the breathtaking light that drops from the western sky into a brilliant, pink-red-blue-gray curtsy behind the floor-to-ceiling windows spanning the back of the restaurant. We admired, awestruck, yet when our food came, we barely looked up from our plates again.
Fresh oysters ($2 each) are a specialty. Drawing from nearby Hog Island Oyster Farm and its neighbors, oft-changing selections might include Sweetwaters, Kumamotos or the Marin Miyagis and Preston Points we chose. Creamy, briny, demanding to be bit and savored instead of swallowed, the buttery meat didn't need (but was wonderful with) accompanying classic Champagne mignonette and a highly appealing "hog wash" of vinegar and jalapeño. The ritual is elegant, plucking a shell from its perch atop a sparkly tray of ice, loosening the muscle with a tiny silver fork, then slurping the salty goodness.
Fish also shines. Local salmon being as precarious as it is right now, Nick's has brought in Scottish ($24), which has the advantage of being some of the finest farmed variety in the world. It was advertised as coming bagna cauda (Italian for "bath," essentially an anchovy sauce), though on my visit it was barely a splash over a bed of Peruvian purple potatoes and roast cauliflower. Nothing was missing, however, from Bodega Bay Dungeness crab cakes ($16) served as a trio of luxuriously meaty, golden-edged disks tinged with fennel and resting on a puddle of bright Meyer lemon aioli.
While Nick's has a fine repertoire of non-seafood entrées—almond grilled Creekstone rib eye ($31) or apple sage stuffed pork loin ($19), for example—one of the most hugely satisfying plates is the cheeseburger and fries. It's pricey at $16, but first-rate, the beef fresh-ground and hand-formed into a thick patty, layered with Spring Hill cheddar or Point Reyes blue and a scattering of housemade pickles.
This is also an important tidbit for a would-be diner at Nick's to know: reservations are strongly recommended. Walk-ins are welcomed at the crowded bar or at the raw bar (full menu served), but landing a seat can be an awkward game of musical chairs. The fastest feet—or most virile appetite for oysters, perhaps—win.
Nick's Cove. Open for lunch and dinner daily; dinner only, Tuesday. 23240 State Route 1, Marshall. 415.663.1033.
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