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Pt. Reyes Pastoral

The original locavores are back at Sir and Star. City slickers, reserve now—just adjust your watch to West Marin time.

Sir and Star in the historic former Olema Inn
(1 of 5)

Roasted marrow bones with onion jam
(2 of 5)

Margaret Gradé and Daniel DeLong
(3 of 5)

Oyster shooters
(4 of 5)

The rustic dining room
(5 of 5)

The best new restaurant of the calendar year stands at a roadside junction in Olema, in a 19th-century inn where an Alice Waters ethos meets rustic farmhouse atmospherics. You get the gist: It’s earthy-money West Marin.

The restaurant, Sir and Star, located in the landmark formerly known as the Olema Inn, is the latest tandem effort from Margaret Gradé and Daniel DeLong, who ran beloved Manka’s restaurant in nearby Inverness until it was consumed by fire in 2006. Now, seven years later, the two have resurfaced 10 minutes up the road, having traveled farther than some of the ingredients that they now serve.

When these chefs say local, they mean local—none of this 100-mile-radius stuff. On a recent evening, all of the comestibles hailed from within 10 miles of the kitchen. The menu went to pains to emphasize that point. A “neighbor’s quail” on a nest of wild greens was in the offing, as was a side of “Mr. Little’s mashed potatoes” (ah, good ol’ Mr. Little). Roasted marrow bones with a “jam of local onions” were made with braised and shredded meat from oxtails that “once wagged nearby.”

You might curl your lip at the cutesy lingo, but there’s no quarreling with the cuisine. That neighbor’s quail? It arrived as bronzed and beautiful as Cleopatra, plump with kale and apricot stuffing. Those oxtails, meanwhile, tender from slow cooking and with the faintest punch from the red wine in which they were braised, all but melded with the marrow. Warm dinner rolls were the perfect sponges to mop up the lush combination.

Unlike Manka’s, which dealt in prix fixe dinners, Sir and Star does its evenings à la carte, a more casual format suited to the property’s roadhouse past. Originally built in 1876, the Olema Inn (now called the Olema) has been refurbished, its once white exterior repainted a fashionable charcoal gray, but it retains the trappings of a rural set piece, with a broad front porch and groomed gardens in back. On most evenings, a fire blazes in a large stone hearth just inside the entrance.

To really qualify as a roadhouse, Sir and Star would have to be a place where today’s traveler, having swapped his buggy for a fancy sports car, might drop in for, say, an all-kale Caesar salad or a quiver of asparagus with sea urchin butter before continuing on his merry way. The chefs say that’s what they’re after.

But it’s hard for me to picture the abstemious sort who wouldn’t want to settle in for a full-blown meal. The food belongs to a familiar genre: rustic California cuisine—a style so ingrained in our culinary culture that few new restaurants seem to serve it anymore. Not that Gradé and DeLong are dredging up clichés. A trio of oyster shooters shimmers in a jelly of their essence, a crunchy dicing of kohlrabi at the bottom of each glass. A bouillabaisse gives off traditional anise aromatics, but the usual seafood has been swapped out for a gathering of spring veggies: not just fennel but favas, asparagus, potatoes, and bittersweet turnips.

Many years ago, when she was running Manka’s, Gradé confessed to not being the best host. “If they put me in the front,” she told the Chronicle, “I would be bad for business.” Well, she’s up front at Sir and Star, and she’s still not Miss Congeniality.

On the night of my first visit, I was welcomed by an empty host’s station. I waited. And waited. Finally, footsteps echoed in a nearby corridor, and Gradé appeared like a ghostly innkeeper from a Scooby-Doo cartoon. “Apologies,” she said. “We’re on West Marin time.” The next time around, I arrived during business hours to find the front door locked. I knocked. And knocked. At last, Gradé materialized. “Hmmm,” she said, releasing the lock to admit my party. “I didn’t realize.” I got the impression that if it hadn’t been for us meddling kids, she might never have.

Once you’re through the entrance, though, the reception warms. The main dining room is spare but pretty, with butcher paper draped across wooden tables and large windows overlooking the verdant grounds. The service is attentive, but so quick on the uptake that an evening can unspool too fast.

This is an experience that you want to savor, selecting a crisp local riesling from the list of around 40 regional wines to pair with your spring onion soup, flanked by sharp-cheese wafers that play off the soup’s sweetness. That the nearest creamery is closer to the restaurant than the nearest olive oil mill may explain why butter plays such a strong supporting role. You taste it in the richness of those mashed potatoes and in the broth of a side of shelling beans.

For dessert, the only option is soft-serve vanilla ice cream with toppings such as hot fudge with toasted black walnuts. And before you know it, you’re back in your jalopy, wending your way from the quiet of West Marin toward your hometown’s bustle. It’s a long drive, but definitely worth making for a very fine, and very local, meal.

The Ticket
A recommended dinner for two people (before tax and tip) at Sir and Star.
Trio of Tomales Bay oysters in their essence ............................................................... $10
Kale Caesar salad ................................................................................................... $10
Marrow in the bone with braised tail meat and onion jam ..............................................$12
Coastal king salmon with Yukon gold potatoes, mustard greens, and garlic cream ........... $12
Quail with kale and apricot stuffing ........................................................................... $20
Dinner rolls with honey butter .................................................................................... $5
Shelling beans ..........................................................................................................$5
Glass of Room riesling ..............................................................................................$12
Total ......................................................................................................................$86

Sir and Star at the Olema
10000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
(at Hwy. 1),
415-663-1034
Three Stars

Originally published in the July 2013 issue of San Francisco

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