SF Chronicle

Sir and Star at The Olema: Life, Death and Rebirth of a Restaurant Legend

I got glimmers of Manka's former magic when I walked into Sir and Star at the Olema.

Grade and DeLong took over the historic Olema Inn that's been in business since 1876. A beacon at the corner of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Highway 1, it's long been known for its white facade and picket fences. Grade and DeLong painted it gray, creating some controversy and giving it what many would say is the look of a haunted house.

Color scheme
Yet the color begins to make sense when diners step inside the 85-seat restaurant, which also has a few rooms upstairs that haven't yet reopened.

The black ceiling, white walls and large fireplace, flanked by scarred Windsor chairs and with a taxidermy bird above the mantel, evoke a rustic feel reminiscent of Manka's lobby.

The star, however, is still DeLong's cooking, which is hyper-local. That extends to the wines, all of which have a Marin connection, with the exception of what the menu calls "life's essential Champagne."

The reasonable prices belie the quality of what DeLong produces. This is country dining at its best.

Imaginative menu
The menu is divided by price: starters are categorized by $10 or $12; all main courses are $20; all sides are $5. On Saturdays, DeLong offers a four-course fixed-price menu ($75) that on my visit included a rich frothy mussel soup with local sea urchin butter; a wild watercress salad with marinated golden beets and a warm, puffy goat cheese souffle; a veal chop with a puree of spring peas, all moistened with a vinaigrette of wild nettles and salted halibut; and mulberries and hot fudge spooned over Straus soft-serve ice cream. A main course of A Neighbor's Quail Plumped With Kale and a Bird Sauce Accented With Apricots is backed up by exceptional execution. I couldn't ask for anything more with the bird - it was gamey, tender and moist - but the stuffing was a highlight.

DeLong's food achieves a fine balance of hominess and sophistication, much like the dining room. Dave's beef "cooked around the clock" brings three well-formed slices of Marin Sun Farm pot roast with local stout gravy, accompanied by cipollini onions and whole caramelized local carrots. This dish makes frequent appearances on the menu, but the accompaniments always change.

Sides pair well
I'm partial to A Dish of Annabelle's Butter Beans, their buttery texture flecked with carrots and other vegetables. There's also Peter's Fingerlings, where the crisp potatoes are served with a salsa verde made with wild stinging nettles.

The wine list
It's a challenge to make a comprehensive wine list using wines with Marin connections, yet this type of focus goes a long way in reinforcing the local nature of what Daniel DeLong and Margaret Grade promote at Sir and Star.

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