SAUSALITO’s Plate Shop & Bar Bocce

Plate Shop’s hanging lightbulbs

Plate Shop, 39 Caledonia (at Johnson), Sausalito, 415-887-9047

Chris Burgeson’s cocktails

Plate Shop is just what Sausalito (and Marin) needed: a city-savvy restaurant with proper cocktails and imaginative dish preparation. Not to say all is idyllic at this new hotspot.

In early opening weeks, service is attentive but the clientele isn’t always so. I watched an overly-suntanned, blonde woman bark at her sweet server (who was also ours) for placing the wrong plate in front her. This is what mars the bustling (even noisy) dining room. The room gently glows with ever-trendy Edison bulbs and clean, soothing woods and whites. But it’s a moneyed, middle-aged crowd oozing suburban mores… and those do not necessarily include caring about what is on the plate.

Visually appealing Beet Salad also pleases the palate

But early word from critics trekking over from the city is already strong and I have no doubt this will be a destination restaurant for Sausalito. Chef Kim Alter is young and visionary. Even if every dish isn’t perfect, all are more exciting than menu descriptions belie. Execution is precise and tastes are forward-thinking. Alter gained technique working the kitchens of Aqua, Ubuntu, and Manresa, keeping to a vision that is Northern Californian but not necessarily Chez Panisse.

Pork parts

From her container garden she selects produce for her dishes, while meat in various incarnations is a key entree factor. Popular starters thus far include Pâté en Croûte ($14), which I’ve heard some call glorified ‘pigs in a blanket’, and the rightly lauded Smoked Risotto ($14), smoky, creamy, laden with sea beans and nasturtium flowers, heightened by sea-worthy bursts of fresh uni.

D44: peanut butter, curry, chocolate, banana

A dish simply titled “Beet” ($12) is multi-colored beets, accented by thin slices of apple, blood orange wedges, beet chips and smoked cipollini onion cream. A sophisticated way to eat your veggies. I’ve had numerous incarnations of lightly fried, dissolving Brussels Sprouts ($7) over the years, and they are equally good here drizzled in aioli.

An entrée highlight was Pig Roast ($25), essentially pig in various cuts from sausage to ear. Braised shoulder and pork chop are fun, even if portions are small. Touches of mustard and preserved lemon are ideal complements. I’ve yet to try the Whole Half Chicken entrée ($24), which is a similar concept (I’ve heard mixed reviews). Spring lamb is the next menu addition.

Smoked Risotto

Dessert is as strong as anything here, particularly Monkey Bread ($8), The Renaissance Man’s beloved dessert from childhood which he and his brother make every winter. This is a grown-up, glorified version. Alter gets the doughy, cinnamon-laced brioche right, puffed up in dough balls topped with vanilla ice cream. I was equally delighted by D44 ($9), a delicate spread of dark chocolate, peanut butter, banana and whisper of curry (could have used more of that) in a range of mousses and ice creams.

One of Plate Shop‘s greatest gains is its cocktail menu. Yes, there’s a fine, Italian-heavy wine list from GM Matt Kahn, but accessing good wine is not a problem in these parts. Classic and creative cocktails prepared well is another story. While Stoli vodka remains glaringly on the menu for the suburban palate, there is plenty to please the educated drinker. Bar Manager Chris Burgeson came from NYC where he bartended and managed, studying under the likes of Tony Abou-Ganim. Prior to that, he was bartending in my other favorite city, New Orleans (the holy US trinity for me: NY, SF, Nola).

Monkey Bread

His menu features three versions of a Manhattan (made with Maker’s, Bulleit Rye, or my go-to affordable bourbon, Eagle Rare, $10-12), a Negroni, Jack Rose, Old Fashioned, and other imbibements you won’t often find done right in Marin. There’s a handful of new creations, including a bright Pacific Rim ($9): Hendrick’s gin, ginger, cilantro, lime and wasabi. Would have loved to be able to taste the wasabi, but the drink is balanced and refreshing.

I’d keep me eye on Alter’s food as it evolves in the coming year. Plate Shop is a fine reason to become re-acquainted with Sausalito.

Bar Bocce

BAR BOCCE, 1250 Bridgeway, 415-331-0555 – I mention Bar Bocce purely for the back patio. Boats bob and water laps at your feet on a tiny beach behind the bar/restaurant. It feels like a seafaring friend’s backyard party… except for the clientele.

Similar to Plate Shop, the place is overrun with suburbanites… but here it’s with their kids. I’d be curious to see if any adults can get a game of bocce in unless it’s parents playing with their children? When I was there on a Saturday night at sunset, bocce was dominated completely by children the entire time.

Bocce’s patio

This doesn’t make for a grown-up or even relaxing evening for many of us, but for families and small groups (minus corporate-looking decor of the dining room), the back patio could be a delightful place for a beer, glass of wine, pizza… and maybe even bocce.

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