Once upon a time in the hills above Tomales Bay there was a fantasy lodge. A breathtaking craftsman castle filled with carefully foraged wildflowers, period furniture, plain air paintings and stupendous food. Manka's nightly tasting menus were filled with uber local ingredients from farmers and foragers that chef Daniel DeLong and owner Margaret Grade know well. At a nearby table in their dreamy, romantic dining room might have as easily been Prince Charles and Camilla as a neighboring peach farmer or grateful visitor. Manka's was like a dream, except we had been there and knew it was once real.
When Manka's main lodge burned to the ground nearly a decade ago I mourned for what had been and would never be again. The beautiful cabins and annex mercifully were saved and Manka's is still offering romantic rooms that define rustic elegance. For years after the fire the couple served food in the rooms and did holiday dinners in temporary dining spaces until a few years ago they were able to buy a neighboring hotel, The Olema Inn that had fallen into disrepair and itself presented a mournful image of what once was. The Olema is now their dining room, the restaurant Sir and Star.
We never went back. Until last night. Looking for a real taste of Marin county I shuttled our guests to the Sir and Star with a ready disclaimer for what might be to find I had misjudged the Sir and Star. The restaurant, still under the watchful eye of Chef DeLong has graciously found it's stride offering a selection of small plates (and a nightly set menu) from nearby ingredients. Mussel infused clam chowder, crunchy bubble and squeak with local crispy bacon and runny duck egg, roasted marrow bones with oxtail vinaigrette, little gem lettuce with boiled dressing, fried oysters with Meyer lemon dipping sauce and more all written on the menu as poetic riddles punctuated with locations and producers (Peter, Bill or Dr Pasternak for example).
The Sir and Star is not the hushed reverence of Mankas. It's time worn floors and simple decor are friendly and casual maybe more appropriate to the way we choose to dine out these days. The food is inventive and fun and addictive. The service is attentive and charming. In the end you are left full and happy and wondering how can they make a plain potato taste so good?
I'll go back to the Sir and Star.