April in Stinson

The beach became the star last week when Leon’s grandson Eric came to visit. Eric is nine and lives close to the sere inland border of Idaho’s grain deserts. In other words: the lad had never been to the ocean.

We set about fixing that exception with a short overnight trip to Stinson Beach that was ostensibly about taking the boy to the buoys but was really about eating deeply and well.


We set out through the town of Tomales and along the bay. First stop, Nick’s Cove, the Pat Kuleto-designed property that transformed an old fish shack into a souped-up facsimile of an old fish shack. With its magnificent perch right on Tomales Bay and its stuffed heads and fishing paraphernalia adorning the walls, Nick’s is a charmer. And a perfect spot, we decided, for a nine-year-old to try his first oysters.

slurpEric gladly had them barbecued, swathed in cheese sauce, and napped with Pernod ($17 per half-dozen). When the fresh half-dozen of cool small Miyagis arrived ($3 each), he begged for raw extras splashed with mignonette. Then he cooly polished off deviled duck eggs with confit ($10) and looked with pity upon me and my childish bowl of hot stubby French fries ($11).

Dear Reader, I do not lie in reporting that he sipped tap water so as not to ruin his palate.

Leon and I were elated.

officeBack in the car, we headed to the Stinson Beach Motel, a tiny tidy oasis of inexpensive lodging. (It is in escrow at this writing and may not stay at ~ $100/night. Go soon!) We checked in, unpacked, and headed for the beach where we rebuilt our hunger slogging through the sand.

That night, we cast about for dinner. The Sand Dollar was packed, with people waiting out the door amid the lively sounds of two jazz men taking the joint’s piano and a sax out for a musical ride. Looks like a great place!

Eager to continue Eric’s gourmet education, we ordered crab cakes ($10) and calamari ($9). We should have saved the Sand Dollar the trip over the hill and just bought them frozen from Costco ourselves. But the entrees—Leon and I had ordered sole, the night’s special—reminded Leon of nothing less than, oh, the maw of hell. I excerpt here from a 500-word screed he recently wrote about the experience. Yeah, um, he’s pissed:

The food comes with surprising speed, radiating waves of heat. It is roughly the temperature of molten lead. How could a sautéed fillet of sole reach such a blistering state? The mild sunburn on my face begins to awaken. The perennial complaint in a busy restaurant is food which arrives at room temperature after languishing at the service window, within your view, while the wait person has vanished. You look at your dish longingly, as if trying to will it to teleport to your table. The experience of food arriving so hot it leaves a scorch mark on the table is unsettling. As I waited for my unfortunate entree to cool, warming my hands over its shimmering heat, I imagined dishes in the kitchen, each with a thawed filet that had been cooked that morning plated next to a mound of frozen vegetables wilting as it waited in line for the microwave. Now maybe that wasn’t the way it went down. Maybe they were melting scrap metal in the kitchen and my food was placed too close to the the blast furnace.

ParkSideStinson being remote and our motel room lacking a kitchenette, we ate the next three meals straight at the Parkside Cafe, which features clean real food smartly prepared, Graffeo coffee, and mystical winemaker Sean Thackrey‘s historically-correct libations.

Chastened by the Sand Dollar’s squid/crustacean/molten sole debacle, Eric retreated into the comforting world of pancakes and PBJ for the rest of our stay. But he did admit to having A List. A seafood bucket list if you will, of which oysters had been at No. 1.

On his next visit? Off to Sausalito and Fish for white anchovy bruschetta—served with tap water to protect the palate, naturally.

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