Love in the Time of Coriander

Thoughts on food & more.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Village of Bolinas (West Marin, Part 1)

I'm relieved that we opted for a "mini-moon" instead of a getaway involving getting your passport and visa ducks in order, hopping on planes (something E & I don't love), exhaustively sight-seeing and, finally, wishing you had a vacation to recover from your vacation.

We went to brunch with E's family on Sunday morning, unhurriedly threw a few sets of clothes, a couple of bikes, and a picnic basket (gifted to us by Anne & Sami and filled with cheese, wine, olives, chocolate & other delights) into the back of E's truck and drove North over Mt. Tam until we arrived in the sleepy little town of Bolinas.

If you're unaware of the rep that Bolinas has, here's a good opening descriptor: the residents categorically tear down the sign indicating the turnoff each time a new one is resurrected. In general, they are inhospitable to non-residents, hoping that the touristy tourists will keep their prissy noses out of Bolinas' business. Though it might seem outright xenophobic to vacationers itching to conquer a cute little locale by the beach, I find it self-protective and utterly understandable. This attitude has kept the town from being overrun with an icky and irreponsible hotel economy.

So what has Bolinas got to offer? For starters, it is more a village than a town, where the locals know each other by name. Only a handful of shops and eateries exist on the downtown strip: a hardware store, one gas station (with ridiculously expensive gas), a doctor's office, a dentist's office, a library, a cafe, a general store, a bike and surf shop, an old saloon by the name of Smiley's (which purports to be the oldest drinking hole in California), and a few other stores offering surf clothes and essential (!) hippie paraphernalia such as incense, crystals, and Indian fabrics. This latter detail, the "hippie" store, is a good indication of the reputation that Bolinas has had over the past few decades. Certainly, it was an alternative haven to many artists, particularly those influenced by the Beats. Richard Brautigan, for instance, called it home and even shot himself to death there in 1984.

Bolinas still retains much of its post-Beat flavor. Many of the houses are very rustic and still don't have a central water or sewage system (because of Bolinas development laws). Deer can be found roaming around throughout the more secluded parts of town. Several ragamuffins, young and old, hang out on Wharf Road wearing flip-flops or dreads or both. Stragglers sometimes camp out on the beach, where there are several beautiful tide pools into which one might peer at low tide. In general, as long as no pandemonium ensues, sleeping on the beach is welcome.

The town's emblem--Bolinas Border Patrol--shows a tough California quail in profile wearing cop shades. A great way to get to know this part of Marin is to read the Sheriff's Calls from the local paper, the Point Reyes Light. The calls still have the flavor of a Wild West, where mayhem of the drugs and alcohol variety make up a bulk of the problems. One story I loved was of a drunken man who broke into a house in the middle of the night and, when confronted by the owner, asked him for cigarettes.

What, then, you might ask, were we doing there? For starters, we hoped that our general familiarity with Bolinas and our respect for the town would make our stay welcome. Afterall, E's mom lived there for awhile, and E still has several friends who are residents. We booked three nights at the Blue Heron Inn, one of the only local B & B's in town, also on Wharf Road, which was recommended to us by friends. The rooms (there are only two) are very cute and quaint, nothing fancy. The bathrooms are spacious and have wood floors and clawfoot bathtubs.

The to-die-for part of Blue Heron was the food. A recent blurb featuring Northern California beach towns in Food and Wine had recommended it. The Blue Heron's restaurant, just downstairs from our room, featured a lovely sun room with wood and wicker furniture overlooking a small garden that can only be described as "cute." While the settings were much more bumpkin than the city-slickness of Fleur de Lis or Jardiniere, the prices and the quality of the food were equal rivals to these SF hot shots. The food was not cheap. There is no mistaking this! But the experience of perfect--nay, sublime--food made it all worthwhile. We were easily wooed and even made plans to come back the next night.

Sunday night:

*Baby greens, grilled red onions, kumquats tossed with red-wine vinaigrette and topped with baked goat cheese and toasted macadamias

*Sesame-encrusted grilled halibut with mango-pepper salsa and rice cooked with coconut milk

*Sweet-glazed pork chops with black mission figs

Monday night:

*Potato leek soup

*Tagliatelle in a tomato and fresh vegetable sauce

*Orange fried chicken with mashed potatoes

*Belgium chocolate cake with chantilly cream

What made the food so incredible? This is a tough question to answer, but I'll take a shot. The perfection of the experience lay largely in the fact that it was not formulaic, not a combinations of fashionable somethings that added up into something. I'd say that the freshness of the ingredients were definitely a factor. Most of the produce was organic and grown in the near vicinity. The pasta sauce for the tagliatelle, for instance, was catapulted from ordinary to extraordinary largely because of the quality of the veggies.

Another important factor in success: the ingredients were not used in a showy way. They were showcased for their complimentary nature. For instance, the kumquats in the goat-cheese salad were exemplary not for their uniqueness as this year's pomegranate (as brown is the new black or the 30's are the new 20's) but because they married well with the rest of the flavors in the dish. It was fitting that the ingredients of the food were committed and collaborating, not only in the spirit of the village of Bolinas but also in the spirit of our recent wedding.

Lastly, I've got to give it up for the wines. We had a Viognier that rocked my world! Of course, I was too enamored to have noted the name of it. I'll have to call them back and ask them what it is. Three cheers for the chocolate cake, too. Had they not run out of the coconut custard pie, we'd have missed out on the cake. Pastry chefs can learn a lesson from the simplicity of a perfectly moist, barely frosted chocolate cake with an ever-so-sweet whipped cream topping it. It was the girl-next-door who, having just emerged from the shower, is always more ruddy and naturally beautiful than an actress caked with makeup.

Stay tuned! More West Marin adventures to come. . .


At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a resident, I wanted to comment that this was one of the least offensive articles I've seen written about Bolinas. Glad you caught the flavor and that you enjoyed the Blue Herron.


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