Every once in a while, I’ve got to escape the city. Sure, it’s not like I live in New York, where I’m sure my California born and bred slow-walking legs are annoying to the busy rats moving in the busier rat race. But there are certain aspects of city that — no matter what city — we all have to deal with and you have to admit, it’s nice to escape from that hullabaloo now and then. So it’s a relief that I can find that respite somewhere that’s still on 20 minutes away from my house (you know, in case I need to make a speedy return home for an injection of stress). Just a quick jaunt over the Golden Gate Bridge (which really does remind me how fortunate I am to live here), and down the windy Alexander Road is Cavallo Point, a boutique lodge set amidst a scenic national park in Sausalito. The lodge is gorgeous — a presentation of rustic and modern — and it embraces its neighboring San Francisco cityscape as well as its woodland environs. Cavallo Point houses many things, including the Healing Arts Center Spa and the Cavallo Point Cooking School, but I was there to visit Murray Circle Restaurant.
Murray Circle Restaurant (so named for the street on which it resides) focuses on seasonal ingredients provided by local artisans. Their meat hails from Devil’s Gulch and Wolf Ranch and their cheese, Andante Dairy’s “Aria” (a combination of goat and cow’s milk cheese), is specially commissioned for the Restaurant. When Murray Circle first opened in 2009, it was to much fanfare, and immediately garnered a Michelin star and a spot on Bauer’s Top 100 Restaurants. But this past year proved a little less memorable, as a revisit by Bauer indicated that while still very good, Murray Circle was not quite as inventive as when it had opened. Bauer’s revisit made it clear that Murray Circle would not be reappearing on the Top 100 list this year.
This was the first time I’ve been to Murray Circle, and the setting is intoxicating. Fireplaces and firepits abound in the near, the Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco in the far. The restaurant itself is warm, with heavy drapery, dark wood beams, the requisite fireplace, and an atmosphere welcoming celebratory meals as well as intimate conversations. My overall experience here was lovely. I don’t know what Murray Circle once was or how it has declined, but I did feel there were a few misses — like the random (and extraordinarily strong) olive placed with quail, the rye “bread” with the cheese course that were actually thin wafers not remotely reminding me of the heartier rye needed to sustain the cheese, and the slightly dry and chalky texture of the rabbit terrine. At the same time, there were some serious highlights, especially in the first seafood course, the amazing two amuse bouche, a to-die-for macaron, and a creamy decadent parsnip flan accompanied by a savory quail ragu. So although Murray Circle is on Bauer’s ‘naughty’ list, I would, in a heartbeat, grab my fastpass and cross the Bridge to settle for another delightful meal at Murray Circle (but you know, I like naughty…).
Here’s my food tour of the Chef’s Tasting Menu:
Note: Since I went there a month ago, Joseph Humphrey announced his departure in late April and Justin Everett, of El Dorado Kitchen, will be taking Humphrey’s post. Humphrey is transitioning Everett over the month of May and then plans to work on his own vision. Everett will keep the menu the same for now, but expect changes come summer.
Amuse Bouche 1: Halibut fritter with salmon roe, shaved horseradish, and chives.
Amuse Bouche 2: Housemade brioche, duck prosciutto, shaved foie gras, and aged balsamic.
Dish 1: ”Pacific Ocean Flavors” (mussels, uni, abalone, tempura battered petrale sole, lump crab in a lemon curd froth).
Dish 2: Devil’s Gulch rabbit terrine with pickled chanterelles, burnt onions, and huckleberry gastrique.
Dish 3: Wolf Ranch wood-grilled quail, parsnips cooked in cacao nibs, and cherry compote, with parsnip flan with quail ragu.
Dish 4: Broken Arrow Ranch wood-grilled venison, roasted grapes, avocado, daikon, and hazelnuts.
Dish 5: Andante Dairy “Aria” with rye bread, apricot-whiskey, and grapefruit.
Dish 6: Strawberry sorbet, vanilla bean macaron, and strawberries.
Dish 7: Chocolate espresso cake glazed donut, coconut yeast donut, and vanilla bean ice cream.