Thursday, March 25, 2010


It was a rainy gray Tuesday, just about a month ago. One of those wet, sad, gloomy days that makes you feel like somebody died --- and in fact, on that day, somebody had, sort of. We had all just been to the funeral of an old friend and co-worker. It was a lovely service, there was a waterfall in the background and it was a peaceful, reassuring setting. There were some good memories shared in that room. Laughter echoed through the tears. But when it came to an end, as the saying goes, we were left with that feeling. Life must go on.

Since the service was all the way out in Marin, and we were moments away from the Buckeye, we headed out for a lunch together. A little group food therapy. There is something uniquely comforting about the ritual of eating after a funeral. It seems to somehow be the life-affirming act most of us gravitate to immediately after that final goodbye. Like awaking from a bad dream, it brings living back home to the people affected by trauma in a very tangible way. It tells us we are still alive. It allows us to get back to the business of living.

Since our Partner in Food Crimes lives in Sausalito, he called ahead and got us a booth in the bar, and fetched his lovely wife and son to join us. Eating in the bar is generally his preferred way to best enjoy the atmosphere of most places where that is an option and the Buckeye was no exception. Our waiter seated us promptly and we wasted no time ordering a round of drinks. A toast seemed appropriate.

I ordered a Sazerac — a strong drink for a special occasion. They make them with Old Overholt at the Buckeye. Old Overholt, Peychaud’s bitters — a nice wash of Lucid Absinthe caressing the inside of the glass to enhance the flavors of the whiskey with a hint of licorice. I first heard of the Sazerac when visiting New Orleans. It’s a southern drink, and it makes me think of warm balmy days along the Mississippi. It was a welcome pick-me-up on that particularly damp and gloomy Tuesday.

My BH had the Purple Rain, one of the house specialty cocktails. This one is a delightful concoction of Lemon-infused vodka with white cranberry and lime juices. Topped off with a dash of Creme de Violette and an orange twist, it is a deliciously subtle drink, sweet with a hint of lavender, the mild savory floral floating nicely around in the lemony vodka. We all raised our glasses to our fallen comrade. Sláinte. L’chaim. Cheers.

Our appetizers came just after our drinks. The first was a Salmon Tartare which was lovely. The salmon was tobiko, it’s meat mingled with leeks, a dash of wasabi cream on top and accompanied with these delightful fried wonton chips. The dish was light and airy, the fatty smooth texture of the salmon meat cut subtly by the heat of the wasabi — the crunch of the chip a perfect compliment to the soft give of the salmon. The dish was a well-balanced mouthful of food, in both its flavor and its textures.

The next offering we sampled was the Buckeye’s Dungeness Crab Cake. I found this version of the dish held together nicely — without the overabundance of binding agents that can often be the downfall of a good crab cake. The crunchy fried outside gave way to a moist and tender inside, the crab meat maintaining it’s hold on the overall balance of flavor. If a crab cake has too much binding agent, the subtle flavor of the seafood can get lost. But these were a lovely shape and texture with the filling seasoned well. The briny, the savory and a nice hint of salty, all blending together. The addition of a side of chipotle aioli gave a spicy hot kick for those who chose to add it to the mouthful. I certainly enjoyed it. The refreshing addition of a sampling of amarinthe frisee in the bowl added a variation to the crunch. The crab patties had a crispy texture, the frisee lent an herbal crunch. Nice balanced combination overall of crunch, salt, savory and heat all working together to balance out the dish.

As we raised our glasses again to our old friend, we sampled the Oysters Bingo. This dish is one that has been on the Buckeye menu “forever.” It is a dish people come there to repeat. There is a tendency these days to serve fresh and to change up the menu daily. While it is a wonderful new tradition, there is a lot to be said for the comfort of an understood favorite. A dish we can go to time and time again knowing it will always be consistently good, consistently what is expected. Consistently delicious. These dishes can carry us back to specific memories of family and friends, as our senses reprise those moments in flavor. This is such a dish for the Buckeye. It is also one of those dishes that consistent word of mouth has morphed into an almost legendary status. A dish that newcomers always measure against the stories. I found it surpassed its introduction. Perhaps because they tasted a great deal like my grandmother’s famous grilled cheese-topped hors d’oeuvres. Or perhaps just because they were good. Either way, childhood memories flooded back with every delicious bite. Food as much-needed comfort.

The dish itself consists of oysters still in their shells, topped with a broiled cheese mixture. We ordered two full platters of these lovely dairy-bathed crustaceons and ate them all. Take that you chefs who scoff at the wisdom of mixing seafood and cheese!

For my meal, I ordered the Lemon Crusted Salmon. It was billed as having brusssel sprouts shattered over bacon and a mustard and tomato sauce. This dish was just outstanding. The fish itself had a magnificent baked on crust and was laid out beautifully over a bed of delicious bacony-mustard greens, the sprouts providing a lovely extra crush of savory texture. The BH enjoyed his steaming bowl of Linguini with Clams, showered as it was in andouille, and bathed in a savory pinot grigio and garlic sauce. It was buttery, with the wine providing a variation on the classic Italian take on the dish he was used to. He found it absolutely delicious.

PFC's wife had a gorgeous seafood salad, which looked scrumptious, but which I didn't sample.  PFC himself ordered the pulled pork sandwich without the bread, and it was also appetizing.  I did taste the meat, and it was spicy with a hint of sweet, smoky flavoring wafting throughout.  Well done.

For dessert, our PFC’s lovely wife ordered a simple sundae. The other three of us shared a gorgeous Coconut Cake over a delectable caramel sauce, and a version of pineapple upside down cake on a cornmeal-cake base, topped with vanilla bean ice cream. Perfection.

As we sipped our coffees, the delirium of the after-effects of a good meal began to replace the gloom of an otherwise difficult day. Food as ritual triumphs again.

I say check it out, and Bon Appetit.

Buckeye Roadhouse
15 Shoreline Highway
Mill Valley, CA 94941-3608
(415) 331-2600

Dining time: leisurely
Service: excellent
Table size: spacious
Noise level: TWO BELLS (not much problem hearing, and it was a bar. Well cushioned sound)