Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do.
True to its name, Cottage Eatery is in a tiny space. Its tables are tiny. Its menu is tiny. Its prices, while not entirely tiny, are certainly reasonable, especially for its posh location tucked away along the Ark Row in Tiburon.
One thing's for certain: Cottage's ingredients are big. Opened in February under Edward Carew and Jennifer Rebman (formerly of New York's Gramercy Tavern), Cottage is all about fresh, focusing on everyday fruits and vegetables crafted into sexy stuff. (House-made kumquat mostarda and caramelized onion tart, or a recent amuse of cucumber, yogurt, almond and sea salt in a shot glass roll off the mind's tongue in a sensuous lilt.)
There's dreamy-sounding pasta like pappardelle with favas, Boccalone pancetta, onions, pepperoncini and parsley ($17), and spring-kissed seafood such as marinated Monterey sardines with fresh mint, bufala mozzarella and red pepper ($12). I found it impossible not to crave a mouthwatering plate of Anderson Farms organic spring lamb fricassee with fregola sarda and Meyer lemon ($25) just by the sound of its components.
There's little butter, little fat. If such natural flavors are tiny, the kitchen kicks in more salt, sometimes with such exuberance that it left crystals crunching in our teeth.
Peas were the star of a recent evening, perfect specimens blanched to bright green pop-snap. The chef, casually sipping from a big glass of red wine as we caught sight of him in the partially open kitchen, transformed them into an extraordinarily silky pale green panna cotta ($12) littered with fava beans and more whole peas, fresh mint leaf and the rousing bite of sea salt.
Peas and favas populated a pleasant plate of roasted chicken thighs ($22), the petite legs from a young bird golden, crisp and splayed over roasted tomato, artichoke, cipollini onions, a whole clove of garlic and chickpeas fashioned into polenta-style fries.
Peas weren't advertised in a Pacific fried oyster appetizer ($10), but there they were, peeking out of a nest of shredded iceberg. This was the best dish of the night, mounding four enormously good mollusks with bacon, jalapeños and a slather of smoked paprika aioli.
Yet roasted beet ravioli ($11) needed something—pancetta, ricotta, perhaps even peas to enliven the pale pink pockets set in a barely discernable poppy-seed-butter-grana padano sauce. Cottage's signature dish is crispy suckling pig ($25) with tiny green Umbrian lentils and pickled red cabbage, but sadly, the pork was sold out by 7pm. A special of bland spaghetti and meatballs ($16) made a poor substitute: underseasoned, undersauced, featuring more ricotta than meat, it was merely a belly filler.
Desserts could make Cottage an industry. These flavors sang. There was a dense buttermilk panna cotta, barely sweetened with the tart chewiness of poached rhubarb ($7), and pound cake ($7), spiked with lots of lemon and lavender under drifts of whipped cream and strawberries.
For such a small treasure, it's no wonder that reservations are a must. Cottage is a cozy little discovery.
Cottage Eatery, 114 Main St., Tiburon. Open for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday. 415.789.5636.
Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.