In my short tenure as The Ark's restaurant reviewer I've had the challenge of publicly expressing my opinion about multiple establishments in the same location over the course of two years. The location is 44 East Blithedale in Mill Valley, known to most of us as, "where the Avenue Grill used to be." I've experienced Cajun food, with a happening bar scene and bad service that was soon reworked into heavy and bland comfort food with incompetent service. Those two failures made us bemoan our poor fate all the more…"We miss Avenue Grill" we cried. When I mentioned the upcoming visit to the new Bungalow 44, a friend commented, "When are they going to give up on that place?"
Fear no more, dear Readers, Bungalow 44 has arrived, and in my estimation, is here to stay. The team from the Buckeye Roadhouse has created a comfortable, delicious eatery that is professional, yet gracious on every level. The exterior is much the same, save a new coat of paint and a Craftsman style entrance. The interior arrangement also seems similar, although new carpet, paint, a refinished floor and beautiful light fixtures have cordially warmed up the room.
The meal began with a house cocktail, in my case the Dreamsicle ($7.50). Vanilla vodka, triple sec and orange juice are chilled and served in a martini glass. I found it refreshingly potent and surprisingly similar in taste to an orange Popsicle.
We adored the salad ($7.75), which generously served three adults as an appetizer. Arugula, radicchio and frisee are lightly dressed in a well-balanced vinaigrette. Domestic goat cheese and chopped bacon are judiciously sprinkled throughout the dish.
Tuna Carpaccio ($10.95) is inspired by Harry's Bar-presumably the well-known restaurant at the Cipriani in Venice, where beef carpaccio was invented. Incidentally, Vittore Carpaccio was an Italian painter, famous for his love of deep reds. Parchment thin slices of fresh, raw tuna are laid out on a large plate, and drizzled with a citrus mayonnaise. The richness of the tuna and the sauce are complemented with a garnish of bitter Mizuna greens.
The Gnocchi with Gorgonzola ($9.95) were awesome. Imagine fluffy little potato pillows lightly browned, then ever so gracefully complemented with a whisper of blue cheese and cream. This dish is ethereal, and is not to be missed.
Main Courses or Main Reasons provide extremely generous portions. Seared Day-Boat Scallops ($21.95) was the best restaurant dish I've had in several months. The scallops were perfectly cooked; seared to a crispy caramel exterior with a tender, sweet and succulent interior. They were served on a raft of fava beans, tiny Beech mushrooms and roasted Yukon gold potatoes. Although the Fava beans were admittedly a bit starchy due to the warm summer, the dish nonetheless was perfected by the citrus buerre blanc that brought all the components together beautifully.
We also feasted on the Fried Chicken ($16.95). Four pieces of chicken are enrobed with crushed cornflakes and fried to a crispy, deep golden brown. The flesh itself is tender and juicy, indicating the cooking oil temperature was correct. Coleslaw with a subtle hint of fennel accompanies the chicken, providing a crunchy and cool contrast. We selected Yukon Gold mashed potatoes as our Favorite Side, which we found to be an enjoyable addition.
The children's menu is not only suited to children's tastes, but it uses what I consider to be "real food", food that is prepared with the same high quality ingredients that are used for all the dishes at Bungalow 44, rather than frozen, processed and otherwise adulterated products that are shamefully fed to children as "happy meals"
Six-year-old Ruby, quite possibly the most restricted diner in Tiburon, loved the choices on this menu and opted for the cheese pizza ($4.95). What arrived was a basic and chewy flatbread crust topped lightly with a delicate tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. She not only gave her dinner a thumbs-up, but she ate the crusts as well, and limited her adult dining companions to no more than one bite each. Her other options were a nitrite-free hot dog and pasta, sauced or "nature".
Warm Upside Down Chocolate Cake ($6.50) was dense, warm, and as promised, melted in our mouths. Personally, I'm over the whole gooey chocolate cake thing, especially in light of the fact that Hershey has acquired Scharfen Berger chocolate, yet I digress. In fact, this dessert was scrumptious, sensuous and not too sweet. I also snagged the last blackberry shortcake ($6.50), much to the disappointment of our neighboring table. The daisy-shaped biscuit was dense yet flaky, and the blackberries and whipped cream were in perfect proportion.
'04 Saintsbury Rose ($7.glass) was not good. It wasn't cold enough, and it tasted off. It was graciously whisked away, and replaced with an '02 Beringer Sbragia, a better choice for our scallops and a better wine overall.
En bref, the food is fabulous, the service professional, the décor lovely. Thank you Real Restaurant Group for not giving up.
Bungalow 44 is located at 44 East Blithedale in Mill Valley.
415 381 2500
Dinner Sunday to Thursday from 5pm to 10pm, Friday and Saturday, 5pm to 11pm, with bar menu available until midnight on weekends. Reservations and credit cards accepted.