There’s big news cooking in Corte Madera.
Celebrity chef Scott Howard has returned to his Marin roots, opening his new Brick & Bottle restaurant last week just across the highway from The Village at Corte Madera Shopping Center.
If it’s been a while since you’ve heard Howard’s name in the North Bay, here’s why. He’s been a man in motion. He gained his claim to fame at (the former) Fork in San Anselmo about five years back, but quickly left to open his own eponymous restaurant in San Francisco (now closed), and then moved on in 2008 to open the enormously popular Five in Berkeley.
With so many great restaurants to choose from in the greater Bay area, one might wonder, what makes B&B so special? The answer would be the comfort food invasion that’s sweeping the area, as more and more restaurants seek that recessionary “sweet spot” of classic and cheap cuisine. Emerging victorious are the chefs armed with boutique ingredients and creative twists, and Howard is hitting the high notes with his inventive menu.
For locally-sourced California comfort favorites, (un)fancy this: belly-pleasing and wallet-friendly dishes like short ribs with tomato jam ($21), spaghetti with Dungeness crab, spicy saffron fennel tomato sauce ($12), and buttermilk-chive biscuits with Howard's homemade pimento cheese ($6).
The most expensive item on the lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch menus is a juicy filet au poivre partnered with scalloped potatoes and creamed spinach for $26.
If you had your share of ordinary crab cakes, Howard's version will wake you up, the meaty patties crisp edged and moist and dotted with red bell pepper, fennel and chives, then finished with a healthy jolt of Crystal hot sauce and arranged over bacon potato salad, peppery watercress and saffron aioli ($12).
Everyone loves pizza, and it's here, though in luxe toppings like duck confit, caramelized onions and fontina cheese ($12); or our group’s favorite, an intriguing blend of clam, mint, spring onion and pecorino cheese ($14). A grilled skirt steak is homey goodness paired with a crunchy BLT salad, tangy Point Reyes blue cheese and onion rings ($19), while crepe cannelloni practically melt in the mouth as a mélange of sweet corn, ricotta cheese, oven-dried tomato vinaigrette and arugula ($10).
If the recipes are deceptively simple, the setting is far from. Brick & Bottle takes over the former Izzy’s Steak & Chops eatery and it’s plush, in dark and blonde wood, sexy red leather booths, and a copper bar. In a nod to today’s love of recycling and camaraderie, the wood is salvaged, the kitchen is partially exposition, and there’s a communal dining table.
You gotta love the contemporary cocktail list, craft beer selections, and eclectic array of wines.
Then, there’s that friendly pricing thing again, touched with good, old-fashioned neighborhood charm. Brick & Bottle features Sunday Suppers with family-style dishes, and has a special counter for “Pizza Picassos”, where children to handcraft their own pies. Each evening, you can snag a prix-fixe from 5-6 p.m. that includes a three-course “Brick Plate” dinner for $24.
The $5 corkage would be delicious enough, except that Howard donates proceeds to local charities.
One caveat: If you don’t see Howard himself in the kitchen for every meal, here’s why. He is still consulting at Five, and day-to-day duties are handled by his chef de cuisine, Bob Simontachi.
Details: Brick & Bottle, 55 Tamal Vista Boulevard, Corte Madera, 415-924-3366, brickandbottle.com.
Tip: Plan a special dinner with a bunch of friends and family, and caravan your crew with a 9-Passenger, Five-Door Stretch Limousine from Pure Luxury.