Photography by Yuri Krasov
Freshly shucked with a wedge of lemon, or grilled and smothered with barbeque sauce, oysters are a specialty at Nick’s Cove Restaurant, Oyster Bar & Cottages, overlooking Tomales Bay. In Marshall, California, where Nick’s Cove is located, everything is pretty much rotating around oyster interests. This tiny town, about an hour drive from San Francisco, has a population of 50 to 400, according to different sources, but on any day of the week it’s teeming with oyster lovers, sipping their Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rose and savoring their bivalves in any nook and cranny of Nick’s Cove or along a 400-feet pier leading to a boat shack with a spectacular view of Hog Island.
The oysters are coming from their own neat and clean beds in the bay, so they can’t be any fresher than that. The waterfront restaurant with glass-covered patio, festively decorated mahogany bar and impressive stone-plated fireplace was completely renovated about six years ago, and updated by new owners in 2011.
Nick’s Cove is one of the last remaining historic establishments continuously dedicated to the tourist trade, fishing, and sustainable agriculture since the early days of California travel. It got its name from a Yugoslavian immigrant Nick Kojich, the original owner the property, attracted by the similiarity of Tomales Bay with its mild winters and shallow waters to the Adriatic Sea. In the 1930s, Nick and Frances Kojich built several cottages on stilts over water, and opened a seafood restaurant. The succession of subsequent owners – Andrew and Dorothy Matkovic, then Alfred and Ruth Gibson – continued to improve the business that inevitably attracted travelers along California Highway One, the most beautiful road in the country, running mostly along the Pacific coastline.
The current owners of Nick’s Cove preserve the traditional architecture and historical ambiance of the cottages while perfecting their decor and adding modern amenities.
Staying at the Big Rock cottage is like traveling back in time, or being on a movie set of a period flick. The house is furnished with antique wooden furniture, leather sofa, oriental rugs, and fishing paraphernalia. Hardwood floors and wall panels, mica light fixtures, a wood-burning oven and especially a hammered copper bathtub and a wooden “commode” create an illusion that nothing has changed here since the Hollywood glamour epoch. However, this impression is deceptive. There is a heated marble floor in the bathroom, a contemporary temperature control throughout the house, and a nicely-appointed kitchenette with a wet bar and all the necessities.
Internet, telephone, and television are also available, but it seems a travesty to use these amenities in a place like this, where much better time would be spent watching egrets follow tides and ebbs in search of prey, contemplating a sunset through the wide dining-room windows, or listening to the soft splashing sound of waves right underneath the floor boards.
Big Rock cottage has its own little beach, where all the treasures of flotsam and jetsam can be found, and is a part of a duplex Big Rock/Little Rock, with each of the adjacent bedrooms having their own bathroom and street entrance, so it can be rented for a big family or even two families with utmost comfort.
Dining at the Nick’s Cove Restaurant is an event in its own right. Executive Chef Austin Perkins creates an amazing array of delectable treats using seafood from the bay and fresh produce from the surrounding Marin and Sonoma County farms. (It surely helps being smack in the middle of the most sophisticated agricultural region).
Raw miyagi oysters from Tomales Bay don’t really need much adornment, but surely benefit from champagne and shallot mignonette.
Georges Bank Sea Scallops are served on a dice of fried pancetta and Coke Farm sunchokes – seared to golden-brown, and laced with port reduction sauce.
Rosotti Ranch goat meatballs are served in a little cast iron cocotte, covered with melted leek tomato sauce and fine herbs.
A good chunk of Columbia River white sturgeon is wrapped in Fra’Mani ham and topped with green garlic soubise on a bed of lacinato kale in piquillo pepper sauce.
Thick and juicy, and bursting with flavor Nicasio Square Kurobuta pork chop is garnished with celery root puree, braised shallots and apple demi-glace.
The menu changes often to accommodate Chef Perkins’ creativity, the catch of the day, and seasonal markets, but most likely you won’t be disappointed with any of the available choices.
Among the seasonal desserts, created by the Pastry Chef Gillian Helquist, there might be a warm rhubarb upside down cake in a delicate round crust, served with a scoop of crème fraiche ice cream and light caramel sauce.
Long after the restaurant patrons finish their dinner, the bar area is alive, and for a good reason – a comprehensive wine, beer, and cocktail list keeps them coming back for more. Having a Marshall Manhattan (Breaking and Entering Bourbon, Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout syrup) or a Pink Lady (Junipero gin, St. Germain, cherry juice, cream) while sitting at the table for two by a glass wall and looking out at the pier and boat shack in Christmas lights is a wonderful experience. For some reason, it’s never boring to be close to water…
To top the endlessly enticing stay at Nick’s Cove, a scrumptious breakfast for two is delivered to the cottage in the morning with the day’s edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Nick’s Cove is located at 23240 Highway One, Marshall, CA 94940. For reservations and additional information call 415-663-1033 or visit www.nickscove.com.