Port Costa, March 10, 2013—QUALIFICATION FOR CATEGORY "roadhouse": the cluster of motorcycles in the parking area at the end of the street.
Well, that, and the fact that the tiny town of Port Costa could in no way support a restaurant-bar like this on its own; it depends on out-of-towners for its clientele. But, first, you really have to want to go there; Port Costa hasn't been on the beaten track for a hundred years. And, secondly, I bet this place has plenty of regulars.
Perhaps the best part of the place, on the basis on one dinner hear with a couple of friends, is the bar: a delightful period atmosphere; plenty of energy; an interesting list of well made cocktails. I had the "roadhouse Martini": Plymouth gin, Dolin dry and semi-sweet white vermouths, orange bitters, and lemon oil — remarkably like the one I make for myself most Fridays and Saturdays, balanced and supple.
(Lindsey's "Martinez" was a trope on the original Martini, with Cocchi vermouth and maraschino in its gin, along with the bitters. Very good, she said.)
Dinner was, well, copious: the four of us ate family style, sharing everything: nice crisp deep-fried green beans in chile salt; bourbon-flavored chicken-liver paté with capers and sweet pickled peppers; an iceberg salad with lardons, chives, and blue cheese dressing.
Then the main course: a half chicken, buttermilk-battered and fried, with mashed potatoes and gravy; pork stew over creamy polenta with tomatillos, chile, lime, and sour cream; a nicely grilled rib-eye steak with porcini and trumpet mushrooms and pommes Anna.
Three desserts, too, for the four of us: pound cake with honey and whipped cream; banana cream pie; chocolate pot de crème with salt caramel and crème fraîche.
Everything organic, sustainable, and hormone-free, according to the menu; and deeply flavored. Also, every dish seemed to me expressive of the location, on the edge of Northern California history, mediating between the Gold Rush era and the happy culinary present. I'd go back.
Bandol, Domaine Tempier, 1989: absolutely perfect condition, fully mature, deep, rich, completely expressive of a great wine (thanks, John)• Bull Valley Roadhouse, 14 Canyon Lake Drive, Port Costa, California; 510-787-1135