The Northern California insiders' new retro getaway is Nick's Cove along a curvy stretch of the Marin County coast. It's hot because its impressario is restaurateur Pat Kuleto (Fog City Diner, Boulevard, Postrio and a host of other signature San Francisco dining destinations), supports the credentials of organic farming and sustainable fishing and is sufficiently out of the way for a cache of remoteness. Plenty of people have gotten the word in the past six months, though -- it's already difficult if not impossible to get a reservation on short notice, although they do have a bar and seat walk-ins.
The 45-minute jaunt west of San Rafael, Novato or Petaluma or about an hour north of San Francisco snakes along hairpin turns through vast protected West Marin hills and dairy farms before reaching the town of Marshall on the Tomales Bay. This coastal Highway 1 stretch from Point Reyes Station on the south to Bodega Bay on the north is across from the Point Reyes National Seashore, a coastal wilderness abundant with wildlife. Landside, it's dotted with late-1800s onetime railroad towns and farms of cultivated oyster beds. It's an area full of history, as the story of Nick's illustrates. And far enough from modern civilization, in fact, that even cell phones can't find you here.
Turning a 100-year-old restaurant that was a local favorite and adding 12 pricey bungalows was a bumpy eight-year journey for Kuleto and his longtime partner, Executive Chef Mark Franz. They've preserved the ambiance -- the restaurant is casual roadhouse-style, and the bungalows were built or remodeled from wood-rotting shacks. They are perched along the water's edge, where you can hear the lap of the tide hitting the bungalow pilings and across the road in the groove of a hill. Each cottage is unique. All are decorated in comfortable antiques with luxury appointments -- high-thread count linens, heated bathroom floors, flat screen TVs and Wi-Fi. Winter rates range from $165 to $595 a night, which suggests what the summer season will fetch.
We sampled the inventiveness of Nick's kitchen staff during a wine tasting dinner hosted by Ross Halleck. You can't go to Nick's and not have oysters, which are farmed in the area by Hog Island Oyster Company, Tomales Bay Oyster Co. and others. Halleck Vineyard in the Russian River Valley produces just under 2000 cases of Pinot Noir. That's not far from Nick's, which has become Halleck's local hangout. His Hallberg Vineyards Pinot Noir 2005 was paired with a butternut squash flan, delightfully rich and nutty with white truffle oil. His Three Sons Cuvee Pinot Noir 2006 accompanied the wood grilled Vermont quail stuffed with local chanterelles, pancetta, cannellini bean puree and a balsamic reduction.
This, of course, wasn't the regular Nick's menu, which is harvested daily from the bay out the back door. We'll head back to do that soon. Kuleto, meanwhile, is hard to keep up with -- he opened two new restaurants in San Francisco's Embarcadero waterfront to more fanfare in late January -- Epic Roasthouse and Waterbar.