The rain was pouring down in sheets, the streets smeared and shiny as licorice along Larkspur's main drag. You'd think that, on this chilly, wet Monday night, everyone would be at home pulling a pizza from the freezer and flipping through the Netflix stack, but up and down Magnolia Street, there's not a parking place to be found. By eight o'clock, nearly every table at Picco is full and happy.
Welcome to Marin Mondays, chef-owner Bruce Hill's popular eat-local brainstorm. The concept is simple: each Monday, the restaurant offers a homey, five-course prix fixe menu showcasing local producers, for $30-$33 a person. (The restaurant's extensive regular menu is also available, and the Marin menu items can be sampled à la carte.) Think Ad Hoc with a locavore twist, and so far, it's brought out big crowds every week, on a night that's typically a slow one in the restaurant biz.
This might be a tricky proposition in, say, Fargo, or Cleveland, but with the Pacific Ocean on one side, San Francisco Bay on the other, and the rich, rolling green fields, woods, and pastures of rural West Marin (plus oyster-friendly Tomales Bay) in between, Marin County is pretty much a year-round bounty of bliss for local-conscious eaters and producers alike. Fishermen, dairy ranchers, farmers, vintners, and foragers all work the land (and water) here, raising sheep, cows, goats, and chickens on grass, farming oysters in the bays, making cheese, distilling liqueurs, catching squid, growing greens, picking mushrooms, baking bread in wood-fired ovens, and more.
So, sourcing: not a problem. And the menu's once-a-week status gives Picco's cooks the chance to be micro-seasonal in their creativity as they come up with new recipes based on whatever cool stuff is available each week. As long as there's enough of it to feed one night's worth of customers, they can use it-- a great boon to the foragers and farmers with just a few acres of continually cycling crops. And the menu isn't strictly local-limited; there's coconut milk in the curry, candied ginger on the ice cream, sriracha hot sauce on the fish cakes. But flavorings aside, the bulk of the ingredients come from nearby, because even in the depths of winter, abundance reigns.
And the menu is open to interpretation each week, instead of being locked down in the pristine, unadorned Cal-Med style, all sea salt and olive oil, that has become the de facto way of cooking local here. On the night we went, the inspiration was Thailand, with a side of Jersey & Buffalo. Or at least that's how we interpreted the appearance of sliders, chicken wings, and soft-serve ice cream between the squid salad and beef curry. To sip, there are two local libations, a Stubbs Estate organic chardonnay and a Shaken, Not Stirred cocktail made with house-infused elderflower liqueur and Square One cucumber vodka, made in Novato.