There are dozens of restaurants in Marin County all within a 30-minute drive of my home. Pizza, seafood, Chinese, Italian, Steak, Sushi, Thai, Mexican, Spanish… you name it, we’ve got it. But one restaurant stands alone in my mind and palate — Restaurant Picco, purveyor of small plates for sharing.
Think of Picco as a tapas restaurant, but with each plate standing as a singular tribute to the perfect blending of tastes, flavors, presentation, ambience and service.
The occasion was my mother’s birthday, so there were seven diners, including my sister Jill and brother-in-law Jonathan from LA, their daughter Courtney, my wife Ellen, daughter Sara, mother Pearl and myself. We ranged in age from 14 to 91, including two vegetarians. Chef/Owner Bruce Hill stopped by to assure us that “Picco is a very ‘veggie friendly’ restaurant.” And he was spot on.
“We strive for California-Italian cuisine with an Asian influence,” he added. “We want our guests to share the plates, talk about the food, and have a great experience. It’s part of the fun of dining out.” As foodies, my sister and her husband couldn’t have agreed more.
We started with a few potent potables: an organic strawberry mojito and a blackberry tequila cooler. Ay caramba! Muy delicioso!
These were followed by an appetizer from the “raw from the sea” portion of the menu: two orders of the ahi tuna tartare were served on sticky rice cakes with mango, apple, soy, sesame, and a hint of wasabi. I’ve had this dish three times now and could literally make a meal of each morsel that always melts in your mouth.
Next, we shared a few plates from the “soup & salad” section: the tomato melon gazpacho, poured into a small juice glass, arrived with silverleaf olive oil. It was perfectly chilled and blended. We also dove into a few salads: marin roots spring lettuces, strawberries, toasted almonds, sonoma county goat cheese lightly tossed with honey balsalmic vinaigrette, along with arugula, blossom bluff nectarine and lemon vinaigrette. Each bite was light and flavorful.
From the “vegetable” section, we chose four more winners: the avocado bruschetta, with balsamic oil and sea salt was a deliciously different twist on the traditional tomato-based bruschetta. The cauliflower gratin with cheddar cheese, caramelized onion and breadcrumbs was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The blue lake beans, olive relish and crispy shallots was an excitingly tasty mixture. We also loved Kathy’s heirloom tomatoes, arugula and torpedo onion with a toasted garlic-miso vinaigrette. This was just superb. Period.
Risotto is always something I order at Picco because it’s made from scratch, every half hour piping hot from the oven and varies weekly. Tonight, it was cranberry beans and lima beans. Very creamy but not overly filling.
Then, the carnivores shares a mesquite grilled half organic chickenb with potato puree, cabbage salad and slightly spicy-sweet Picco BBQ sauce.
We were so full after all this that we skipped a choice of five recommended cheese plates and chose the neighboring Picco Pizzeria’s Strauss Dairy softserve vanilla-chocolate swirl made from Scharffenberger Chocolate. But we couldn’t resist also completing our meal with the lemon basil panna cotta with blueberries and ricotta, alongside four tiny cornmeal cupcakes.
Because of the size of our group, we were lucky enough to have a separate table in a private room. The service was superb — the waiters never hovered like they do in some restaurants. Instead, they were there when you needed them and not when you didn’t. Now that’s what I callservice!
If it sounds like I’m gushing more than normal, it’s because Picco is a very special restaurant that stands head and shoulders above any other Marin County restaurant for everything from originality and execution, to sustainable food, quality, service and style. No wonder patrons are lined up out the door every night for both the main restaurant and the pizzeria.
Restaurant Picco : Open for dinner only, seven nights a week.
A: 320 Magnolia Avenue, Larkspur, CA 94939 (15 minutes north of San Francisco)
T:Reservations are strongly suggested – 415.924.0300