California Bay Area Part 5 of 5—
After finishing a fantastic lunch at River’s End overlooking the Pacific Coast where it was cold and overcast, just one hour south and a bit inland to Marin County, the sun was a gorgeous blue again and the weather was in the mid-70’s with low humidity—in other words perfect! We had arrived at our in-laws Kim and Ken Cochrane’s house in San Rafael.
A view from the Cochrane’s front porch.
We found out later that the blond, long-haired female neighbor across the street was a high-level Buddhist monk who had the Dalai Lama himself visit with a stream of secret service limos in tow. I actually did catch a glimpse of her highness as she disembarked from her Mercedes (I had no idea being a monk paid so well) and she looked a lot younger than her years, which were purportedly about the same as mine—bee-otch! Enough about the neighbors…
Our dinner reservations that first evening were at the quintessential Marin County dining mainstay, the Buckeye Roadhouse, a beautiful Aspen lodge-style dining room adorned with vaulted ceilings and a magnificent river-rock fireplace. The menu features delicious traditional American cuisine with a Californian contemporary twist—and as is the case with most restaurants that we have patronized on this trip—utilize fresh, local ingredients.
A large moose head can be seen hanging near the cathedral ceiling between Ken and Kim.
Our table was on the second floor loft overlooking the first floor dining room and fireplace. It was good catching up with each other, because as I mentioned in the previous blog, the last time we visited the Cochrane’s was 11 years ago as Hurricane Katrina barreled down and devastated New Orleans. And as I was writing this, Hurricane Matthew had just pummeled some of the Caribbean and was working on trashing most of Florida and the Carolinas.
And several days after we departed California, guess who went on a trip to the Caribbean via Miami, Florida to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary? Yes, that would be the Cochrane’s! Just this morning Kim posted on Facebook that they made it to Antigua only one day late. Fingers crossed that they make it back without any issues.
Back to the Buckeye. For starters, the ladies enjoyed salads: I ordered the Kale, Mint, and Goat Cheese that came plated with fennel, toasted bread crumbs, and goat cheese vinaigrette; and Kim chose the Organic Butter Lettuce with spiced walnuts, fuji apple, and Point Reyes blue cheese, which seems to be pretty common in these parts. While Russ opted for the perfectly charred Pan Roasted Artichoke with a creamy tarragon dip and a seared lemon half.
Our entrées ran the gamut from the medium-rare Bacon Wrapped Petit Filet Mignon plated with king oyster mushrooms, a layered potato-fennel gratin, finished with a velvety red wine sauce (the choice for Russ and I both.) While Ken selected the wood grilled Brandt Rib-Eye Steak with herbed garlic butter, fried squash blossoms, and a sliced heirloom tomato salad (which I should have swapped out in place of the potato gratin.)
While I am remiss as to exactly what Kim ordered, I believe it was the pan-seared “Fish of the Day” on a layer of beautiful magenta-hued (beet?) sauce and topped with green olives and charred broccoli. Her dish resembled a surrealistic painting with all of the colorful shapes.
The next day was Friday and Kim had to get up early for work so there was no wild night on the town for us (not that we had any such plans to do so.) We woke up to another absolutely spectacular day, and along with a few food shopping errands, Ken took us on a tour of the Samuel P. Taylor State Park which contains nearly 2,800 acres of wooded countryside in the rolling hills.
One memorable stop was the Marin French Cheese Factory. It all started on a dairy farm in 1865 and soon gained renown for their European style cheeses: soft-ripened Brie, Camembert and a simple treat called Breakfast Cheese. Today, more than 150 years later, it is the longest continually operating cheese company in America, still creating the same classic styles of Brie and Camembert using only the freshest milk from neighboring family dairies.
While Ken was disappointed that they no longer provided tours (as were a couple of other guests), we were happy to indulge in a tasting event of numerous flavors and styles. The hard part was deciding which ones to buy because they were all delicious!
Because we were luxuriating in fine dining most evenings, lunch was nonexistent most days, which was more than fine by me. For our second evening in San Rafael, we supped at Insalata’s, a favorite of both Kim and Ken, and for good reason. Since 1996, Insalata’s, a bib gourmand-awarded restaurant has brought the warm spirit of the Mediterranean to Marin County, with menus that strike a balance between familiar flavors and enticing new fare. It was heart warming to learn that they proudly partner with ExtraFood.org to get food donations to vulnerable people in the community.
While waiting for beverages of choice, a basket of freshly baked bread was delivered table side as we pondered the selection of appetizers which were refreshingly different, and our choices reflected that. My starter was the Crispy Eggplant Fries with a side of cilantro-mint chutney. Delicious! Ken enjoyed his sleeve of Marinated Olives with thyme and orange.
Kim’s Syrian Fattoush Salad was made up of romaine, toasted pita, feta cheese, onions, cherry tomatoes, olives, cucumber, cilantro, and mint, in a lemon lemon vinaigrette. But the award goes to Russ’s Moroccan Lamb Kefta consisting of lamb meatballs in spicy tomato shakshuka, manouri cheese, pickled chilies and house made grilled flatbread. I snuck a taste, and OMG was that good! No, that was GREAT!
Just writing about all this food, I don’t think I could take another bite! However, I didn’t seem to have a problem at the time… So let’s talk entrees. Guess what Russ ordered? Surprise—the Honey Glazed Duck Breast, on a crispy quinoa-potato cake, with wilted spinach, balsamic currants, pine nuts, and an apple ginger chutney.
With red meat on his mind, Ken opted for the Porcini Rubbed and Grilled Wagu Bavette Steak, complimented with braised shallots, marble potatoes, maitake mushrooms, black garlic soubise, red wine jus, and a salsa verde. Did he like? Yes he did!
Great minds think alike, and Kim and I seemed to be on the same wavelength because we ordered the Grilled Swordfish, gorgeously plated with grilled broccolini, zaalouk spiced fregula and corn pilaf, olivada vinaigrette, and a green harissa aioli. Go different, or go home I say… but apparently not before dessert…
A separate dessert menu lists eight or so offerings, and the one chosen was the Lemon Tart, a raspberry-Limoncello coulis with graham cracker crumble. It was almost too pretty to eat, but those that indulged said it was well worth it. I can see why the Cochrane’s consider this one of their favorite go-to restaurants.
The following day was our last full day of vacation and we spent the afternoon on Mt. Tamalpais with Ken as our guide. That is one twisty, winding road, let me tell ya—but WOW is it worth it once you reach the top! Then it was time for the “Last Supper” and that’s when Dee and David drove over to the Cochrane’s to enjoy the lamb dinner I blogged about last week. They took us home to Alameda to catch an early flight out the next morning. Thanks to family, we enjoyed a fabulous time on the West Coast!
At the summit of Mt. Tam at a 2600-foot elevation. We lucked out because there was no fog shrouding the view.
Chillaxin’ on the Cochrane’s patio before the “Last Supper.”