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Petaluma chef heads to Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen

Far too often, I forget just how incredible our coastline is. From hiking to golf to camping to dining, there is more than little bit for everyone, all within a stone’s throw of Petaluma. Even the farthest reaches at Pt. Reyes Light House is just over an hour, Jenner at slightly less than that and Stinson and Bolinas are roughly 50 minutes away. It might seem like a bit of a trek, but with so many places to stop along the way, both there and back, coupled with the exquisitely scenic drive, a day trip to the coast can recharge anyone’s batteries.

At right around 30 minutes, the drive to Dillon Beach is one of our favorites, whether for a lunch or quick getaway. For staycation destinations, Dillon Beach is hard to beat both for price and convenience. And although there are plenty of accommodations to choose from, including camping by tent or RV at Lawson’s Landing, renting one of the new cabins at Dillon Beach Resort, or one of the many vacation rentals, up until recently the dining options were limited.

Dillon Beach Resort’s Coastal Kitchen changed the tides this past December when Chef Todd Shoberg moved over from Brewsters in Petaluma. (These restaurants are both co-owned/managed by the same person.) Coastal Kitchen is quickly becoming a go-to coastal destination for locally sourced cuisine.

Recently, Shoberg handed over the reins to Chef Matthew Elias, best known from his work at Salt Water Bistro and the Bodega – CA food truck.

We have been visiting Coastal Kitchen at least monthly since it opened, and were quite excited to hear that Chef Elias joined the team. You have seen his name in my columns and articles ever since we first tasted his food at the Heidrun Meadery crab feast several years ago. His food truck, the Bodega – CA, was a huge success and his catering of special events has become near legendary. The same way local wine pairs best with food sourced from the same terroir, a chef who is deeply involved with his local food purveyors will also shine because his food matches the seasons and sometimes even the weather of that particular week.

Elias has already started to tweak menu items in order to align the flavors more to his style. However, the restaurant’s commitment to ultra-local sourcing has not changed. In fact, it would be hard for them to do it any other way because few large suppliers are willing to send their trucks down the windy Dillon Beach Road for such a small restaurant.

On a recent visit, we started off our lunch with drinks, chuckling that it was because the menu suggested it - “as a general rule, always start with a drink.” Whether you prefer house-made lemonade, Mexican Coca-Cola or a glass of wine, the choices are well rounded for such a small place. Along with a couple of HenHouse and North Coast brews, I often choose the KSA Kolsch from Fort Point, which is not only a super easy drinker, but goes very well with the food on Coastal Kitchen’s menu.

We ordered up two classics for the table - the house-made pickles and the seasonal and rotating smoked fish dip with rustic crackers. Along with cucumbers and baby carrots, the pickle dish also highlighted the season with pickled onions, cabbage, radishes and even white strawberries.

This week’s fish dip was a mesquite smoked king salmon made with Bellwether Farm’s fromage blanc, dill, preserved lemons and pickled onions. It was gone before I could even snapped a photo. Also as an appetizer, we ordered up the fried mushroom arancini, which is basically fried rice balls, made from local carnaroli rice, covered in a sweet pepper and roasted tomato sauce and topped with finely shredded cheese.

That’s when our extended family questioned exactly how many meals we planned to consume. When it comes to Elias, we order everything that looks good, share around the table, and hope there is something left for us to take home for later, which is rare.

Next, we each ordered our lunch entrees, which included littleneck clam chowder, several grilled chicken souvlaki wraps and the Stemple Creek burger.

The chef sent out what appeared to be a tray of veggies. I suspected this was a joke on me, as he knows I do not like veggies. Yet I love everything Elias creates, and yet again, I could not resist even my least favorite of vegetables: squash. I have never gone back for seconds, thirds and fourths of a squash dish until trying the First of the Season Grilled Summer Squash Salad. The basil pesto, parmesan and black pepper certainly did not hurt, but simply put, this chef knows how to prepare veggies to the peak of perfection.

The clam chowder at Coastal Kitchen has been top notch since day one. This was the first any of us had seen of a grilled chicken souvlaki wrap on a menu and it was a real crowd pleaser. Although I would have been in heaven to have just a bowl of the perfectly seasoned chicken, the whole package was excellent, coming with za’atar yogurt, pickled onion, cucumber, lemon, mixed greens and sweet pepper harissa, all wrapped in a warm pita, with fries on the side.

Many had complained that the original Coastal Kitchen menu was missing a burger, but that has now been rectified and in grand fashion. Besides the Bodega Chicken Sandwich, Elias’ Stemple Creek Burger was one of the most popular items in his food truck, and now can be found at Coastal Kitchen. Sourced from Stemple Creek Ranch, which is just down the road, the burger is always prepared to order, seasoned perfectly, and topped with jack cheese, caramelized onions and special sauce, all between a brioche bun ($18).

As an after though, we ordered what turned out to be the biggest surprise of the meal, a side of roasted fresh-dug potatoes and other root veggies ($6). The addition of several other root veggies added depth to what might otherwise have been just boring old potatoes. With so much food on the table, this is one of the dishes that came home with us and was the first thing I pulled from the fridge when craving a snack the next day.

To finish off the meal, we ordered two desserts, but regretted not ordering more. The choices were strawberry and buttermilk panna cotta and two flavors of Double 8 Dairy soft serve with various toppings. The panna cotta was a bit hard to identify when it first came out, but ended up blowing our minds. The texture and flavor combines were stunning.

The ice cream, a vanilla and a salted caramel, did not disappoint either. We were happy to taste Double 8 Dairy just before we set out on a tour of Ramini Mozzarella. Those two dairies are the only water buffalo dairies in the whole state and just so happen to be about 10 minutes from each other in the west Petaluma countryside. With double the butterfat of milk cows, yet half the lactose, this ice cream is sweet and creamy and often quite palatable to those that are otherwise lactose intolerant.

It is interesting to note that Elias and former partner Laine Ayre moved from Salt Water Bistro to open the Bodega – CA food truck because they wanted to bring restaurant-quality food to the street. They succeeded, only to then flip the menu again and take many of those food truck successes into a restaurant setting at Coastal Kitchen. However, Bodega – CA food truck has not been retired. All one has to do is look over the cliff in front of the Coastal Kitchen parking lot, down onto Dillon Beach itself, to see that it still alive and kicking and making gourmet food available for beach diners.

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