After a lovely and leisurely stroll
around Mill Valley, we ventured in to Balboa Cafe for dinner on a Friday evening. We were a little early, as Mill Valley's picturesque town area is a tad smaller than we'd envisioned and even "strolling leisurely" we walked the town in about 15 minutes. The Balboa Cafe host was wonderful in placing us at a bar table temporarily, until our reservation table was available. Thus dispatched, we ordered a round of drinks and promptly fell in love with Mark, who helped us during our bar time with endless aplomb. He was just so perfect that we wanted to wrap him up in a ribbon and take him home with us. You think I'm kidding? Oh no.
Our table came available and unfortunately, Mark couldn't come with us. After a proper farewell we ventured over to the other side of the room, the dining area. Lorraine was our server and honestly, while she was perfectly lovely, Lorraine was not Mark. She provided great service, but was missing panache. When you go from gougères to Ritz crackers, even if the Ritz is great, it's still not a gougère.
Onward. We started with the ahi tuna "crudo" (ginger, yuzu-soy vinaigrette, cilantro), which was shared by the three of us. Great, directly-from-the-sea clean flavor but the sauce was just a touch salty. Yes, I know it's a soy sauce, but the salt overwhelmed the mellow clean taste of the ahi.
Next up: the little gem "wedge" salad (smoked bacon, pt. reyes blue cheese). The little tomatoes each offered a burst of fresh tomato flavor (LOVE it when tomatoes taste like tomatoes and not like nothing), the smoked bacon provided a subtle smoky tang that melded with the other flavors and the blue cheese flavor shone through so brightly that I expected my little salad to burst out in song at any moment. Stellar. A 10 out of 10 for the wedge salad.
Side note: use human eyes for your spell and grammar check on the menu, kids. My entree: carmelized california halibut (cauliflower, pistachios, north african spices) - argh. "Carmelized" (had the halibut been driven up to Carmel for a crash course in Carmel culture?). I fully admit to being an anal-retentive spelling-bee-winning kid but even for average patrons, misspellings like this kill your credibility. Like nails on a chalkboard, I tell you.
Back to my entree! I ordered the carmelized california halibut (cauliflower, pistachios, north african spices). It arrived, I took a bite, and WOW! It tasted like fried chicken! Seriously. In the best way! It was wonderful. Loved the spice combination. The cauliflower appeared to be roasted in bite-size pieces and was indeed touched with North African spices, then studded with pistachios and possibly currants and capers. While I may be in the minority, I found that everything but the cauliflower got lost in the mound of cauliflower. By that, I mean that I started finding pistachios, currants (golden raisins? Couldn't see very well in the dimmed atmosphere) and capers after most of the cauliflower was eaten, as the smaller bits had migrated to the bottom of the plate and left a huge pile of nothing-but-cauliflower at the top. I know that pureed cauliflower is passe, but it might have been more interesting in this particular presentation as then you'd have the whipped density of the pureed cauliflower holding its own with the delicious little bits of pistachio, currant and capers studded throughout.
For dessert, we ordered two items for the table: the chocolate "pudding" with chocolate crunch and the artisanal cheese plate. The chocolate pudding was truly more of a silky, not overly sweet chocolate ganache and paired with the salty chocolate crunch, it actually caused me to stop speaking altogether so I could simply savor my dessert. Then, sated, I put the spoon down. And about 30 seconds later, picked it up again. This happened many, many times. Willpower? It had vacated the building.
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