Santa Rosa chef Mark Stark knows how to satisfy the carnivorous cravings of his diners by serving them seriously good steak. Stark’s selection includes: Certified Angus Beef, in house Dry Aged, local grass fed and Kobe beef. During a recent visit to Starks, located in an upcoming part of old town Santa Rosa, my dinner companions ordered a killer appetizer line up that left little room for entrees. First up was roasted bone marrow served in bones cut lengthwise with short rib marmalade and toast. I had never eaten marrow before and was shocked at how buttery, delicious and simply addictive it was.
The hand cut steak tartare with truffled miso dressing was as satisfying as the marrow. But the topper was the banh mi Vietnamese steak sandwiches. I’m not much of a meat eater but this food was so tender and flavorful my inner carnivore was clawing to get out.
Let me introduce you to the chef. Mark Stark is a charismatic, fun lovin’ guy who cooks crazy good food. You would never know that five months ago he was a heart beat away from a coronary. “I was eating the wrong things late at night and not getting much exercise. I went on the Caveman Diet and the weight just dropped off. It was right for me,” said Stark. The concept of a high protein, low carb diet has been around for awhile but it has come back to life in the form of the Caveman and Paleo Diet which both emphasize meat, vegetables, some fruit and no starches or processed foods. Since the cavemen had to run around a lot hunting and gathering, this type of diet includes a lot of exercise. Stark hit the gym, including dedicated boxing work outs. Says Stark, “I lost 55 pounds but the best part is I have a lot more energy.” He needs that energy to manage four successful restaurants with his wife which includes the very popular Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar in Healdsburg.
If meat isn’t your thing, the menu at Stark's has other food groups to choose from including fresh seafood like Tamarind BBQ’d wild prawns and Tandoori Salmon. In fact, after five months of dieting, Stark is now planning to include a seafood and raw bar at his Steak House.
Stark says the steak house menu is structured with all items a la carte so diners can design their meals to conform to the Paleo diet by ordering a protein dish and a side. The restaurant’s sides include asparagus, spinach, corn, cauliflower gratin and broccoli rabe. Just stay away from the rosemary yam fries if you are trying to drop a few pounds.
So enough with all this healthy stuff. I wanted to know if real cavemen drank booze. “My guess is they drank some kind of fermented fruit somewhere. It’s not on the diet but I have not given it up,” admitted Stark. The restaurant pours an array of different cocktails and the wine list is impressive, featuring 60 percent local wines. Stark's focuses on Sonoma County wines and so did my dinner party. We started out with a sparkling J Brut Rose followed by what I thought was an excellent Ramey Chardonnay that was not over oaked. We also had a Lancaster Estate Cabernet off the menu and brought with us a La Follette Pinot Noir.
I was happy to learn that Stark's doesn’t charge corkage fees for the first two bottles. In fact, all the prices at this steak house seem reasonable.
For those interested in Stark’s success with the Paleo/Caveman diet, you can come learn more for yourself. Early next year, the busy restaurateur plans to begin teaching a series of healthy eating classes called, "Caveman Cooking."