By Leanne Battelle, IJ correspondent
POSTED: 12/27/16, 12:23 PM PST | UPDATED: ON 12/27/2016
Address: 2000 Paradise Drive, at Mar West Street, Tiburon
Website: www. thecaprice.com
Noise level: Medium
Liquor selection: Full bar
Corkage: $25 (one bottle maximum per each two guests)
Heart-healthy and vegetarian selections: Yes Gluten-free selections: Yes
Organic offerings: No
Dog friendly: No
Parking: Lot and street
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. daily
Credit cards: All major
Prices: More than $25
Summary: This traditional waterfront restaurant has a view that can’t be beat. An excellent special occasion dining destination with traditional continental cuisine and excellent desserts, it has well stood the test of time.
Enter the Caprice Restaurant, smack on the waterfront just past the small town of Tiburon, and there’s a feeling you’re stepping back in time. This is a place with a firm grip on long-established tradition that defies trendy convention. There are plenty of other dining destinations in Marin to please seekers of a hipper ambiance and deeper farm-to-table philosophy, but this restaurant has been around for six decades for a reason.
The small restaurant’s dynamite location clings tightly to the edge of Paradise Drive in a snug position between the water and the road. Every table has a vantage point from which to view breathtaking views of Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge from large picture windows.
This is a special occasion spot, where tables are formally set and many patrons dress up, at least by Marin standards. A white brick fireplace glows near the entry across from a small grotto bar. Red wooden chairs compliment festive holiday decorations. Easy-listening piano music plays in the background and the din of conversation hums. There’s a level of familiarity among groups who are clearly regulars. Although service is fairly relaxed, it’s a grown-up restaurant that children might term fancy.
For longtime locals who lament that Marin isn’t the same as it once was, whatever connotations that might convey, the Caprice is a well-appreciated throw back. Opened by sailor, epicurean and overall character Kirby Atterbury in 1956, the restaurant initially was on Main Street. In 1962, he moved it to the present location, once a private home. With renditions over the years as a fine French restaurant and then a clubby steakhouse, Atterbury sold it after a 40-year reign.
The staff, snappily dressed in black, appears steady, dedicated and relaxed. General manager Michael Steiner, who has been at the restaurant since 1996, says there is little turnover; the most recent hire has been there for five years. We experienced a few lapses in service, but distraction may have come into play due to some large parties.
To start off the evening, if you’re so inclined, a cocktail is sure to be done right in a restaurant of this stature. Stories have it that at one time, patrons could descend to a saloon carved into the rock just below the dining room and mix their own cocktails. Today, drinking stays above ground, and the no- nonsense list includes gimlets, cosmopolitans, Manhattans and more ($11 to $12). The wine list has a range of California selections with a variety of choices by the glass ($9 to $18). By the bottle, there is a predominance of chardonnays, pinot noirs and cabernet sauvignons ($40 to $160). Sparkling wines ($36 to $245) and after-dinner wines and cognacs ($10 to $30) complete the list.
For the past eight years, executive chef Juan Salazar has been in the kitchen. He serves hefty portions of traditional, American food with a European twist along with ample side dishes. As Steiner says, “it’s not a ‘chefy place.’” This is good comfort food that keeps people coming back.
After the cocktails, the first food impression of the night, the bread, sets the bar high. It’s a wonder why at many restaurants this offering to tame the appetite often leaves you deciding to save space for the main event after all. Not here. The French bread comes out warm and crusty with a little ramekin of butter.
First-course menu items include escargot with brandied mushrooms; carpaccio of beef tenderloin flavored with sesame, cilantro and lime; and a roasted beet tower with herb goat cheese and asparagus tips. We began with Dungeness crab cakes ($18) with a straightforward side of micro-diced pineapple, jicama, red peppers and chives. Served two on a plate, the cakes were mostly crabmeat without much filler. Given that it’s crab season, our hope was that it would be fresh and local, but the waiter candidly informed us that “fresh canned” crab is used instead. The cakes were nicely seared on the outside, but were cold when they came to the table.
The butter lettuce salad ($11) with apple cider vinaigrette and a goat cheese croquette was delicious in its simplicity. The crevices of large, bowl-shaped leaves pool the lemony dressing and were accompanied by pear wedges and whole toasted pecans.
For entrees, choices include preparations with prawns, filet mignon, lamb, pork chops, duck, petrale sole and lentils. We opted for seared day boat scallops ($29). Mashed potatoes were piped into the form of a star and circled by three scallops with asparagus spears jutting out from the center. This arrangement sat on a pool of creamy galangal beurre blanc sauce. It was a fun presentation and a tasty combination.
We visited the restaurant on the weekly prime rib night ($23.95), so in honor of my meat-and-potatoes-loving dad, the choice was a must in his memory. Fitting with holiday indulgence, it came with a side of potato gratin and creamed spinach, and swam on a bed of au jus with a spoonful of horseradish sauce. It was a straightforward preparation and fairly portioned for the price, but the meat arrived redder than the requested medium and was on the cold side.
I’m not sure how things operate in the kitchen, but many of the dishes arrived uncommonly fast. And we found in some cases, an item on the plate would be hot while others were not when they were meant to be.
It’s hard to decline topping off the meal with dessert, especially given that Salazar has a background as a pastry chef. The chocolate trio ($15) was a delight. The dreamy pot de crème served in a small demitasse cup was highly silky and smooth, and was well balanced with a homemade whipped cream. A warm, glazed flourless cake was light, moist and rich. And the ice cream had a perfect creamy texture.
Restaurant trends come and go, but the classic ambiance, outstanding bayside location and special occasion fare at the Caprice provide a strong identity for this locals favorite. Please note the restaurant will be closed from Sunday until Jan. 11.
Leanne Battelle is a freelance food writer. Send her an email at email@example.com with your comments or restaurant recommendations. Or you can follow the Marin dining scene at www.instagram.com/therealdealmarin.