A Rich History at Cavallo Point
At the base of the Golden Gate bridge on the Marin side of the bay sits a prime piece of California Parks and Recreation land known as Fort Baker (pictured above pre-Golden Gate bridge). With views overlooking the city of San Francisco, the Golden Gate bridge and the bay, Fort Baker has a long history going back to the Civil War. The fort was an Army post originally built in 1850 for coastal defense and now sits on the National Register of Historic Places. Various bunkers and military structures pepper the Marin Headlands in and around the hills where the Golden Gate bridge connects with land on the north side.
During World War II Fort Baker served as a military base of operations guarding the mouth of the bay and much of Northern California. In January 2005 an agreement was struck between the National Park Services and a group of developers who renovated many of the historic buildings at Fort Baker and reopened in 2008 as Cavallo Point with 142 rooms, 15,000 square feet of indoor space and a 100-seat Michilen-star restaurant called Murray Circle.
Mrs. B and I recently spent the night at Cavallo Point and stayed for the following evening with author, chef and television cooking show host Lidia Bastianich who was holding a book signing at the restaurant. We had stopped in for drinks in the past when Mrs. B worked in Sausalito, but we hadn't eaten there before.
What piqued my interest in Murray Circle at Cavallo Point is Master Sommelier, Gillian Ballance who is one of eighteen female Master Sommeliers. When she passed the M.S. exam in 2012, it made me want to come in and dine with her at Cavallo Point where she manages the wine program.
What I loved about Cavallo Point was the sense of rich history it has. Every building is meticulously maintained as if time stood still for over a century. Bay area-based Restoration Hardware surely draws inspiration from the building interiors at Cavallo Point as each room looks like it could be a Restoration Hardware showroom.
If there is a perfect way to start each day, it might just be breakfast overlooking the Golden Gate bridge along with the city and bay in the background. A warm cup of fresh brewed coffee and eggs benedict with the morning paper just felt right as if that same exact meal had been enjoyed hundreds of times in that same spot over the years.
But that wasn’t the “perfect” part—sitting in the wooden rocking chairs on the deck of our unit listening to the peaceful sounds of the bay and surrounding birds was what did it for me. Finding a little corner of the world that’s so peaceful and quiet, yet so close to the city is hard to do. I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. I had to force myself not to pull out my phone or laptop and just relax, but it was worth it.
Mrs. B had to go offsite for some meetings in Mountain View so I set up what might be the best office setting one could hope for. On Murray Circle's front porch (still overlooking the Golden Gate) are long wooden tables. If the weather is warm enough, like it was on this day, the wifi and stellar view is all that's needed to get to work.
Lunch time seems to come on the heels of breakfast without any indication 3 hours have already passed. I could get used to this. The true test of a good restaurant is how they do the basics, so I tested the theory and ordered their version of the all-American cheeseburger. Afterall, I was sitting on a former Army base, so there was something patriotic about my choice.
An Evening with Lidia Bastianich
For many foodies, television host Lidia Bastianich is like a second mom. Part of the reason we wanted to stay at Cavallo Point was to attend Lidia's book signing and dinner. Murray Circle's Executive Chef Justin Everett was tasked with creating a menu for Lidia and her guests interpreting some of Lidia's recipes. "We're seasonal focused" Everett said, "it was fun delving into her recipes to see her take on dishes."
Part of Lidia's Italian heritage and cooking style favors simplicity, but using higher quality ingredients. Sounds easy enough, but restraint isn't an easy feat, which is what makes great chefs great. Chef Everett's challenge was adopting Lidia's approach to using seasonal ingredients, especially because seasonal ingredients in Lidia's world are completely different than seasonal local ingredients in Chef Everett's world.
When I asked Lidia about how she thought the chef did she was pleased saying, "it's fun watching a chef interpret the recipes and express the flavors using what they have available. I'm pleased with how the dishes turned out."
Course 1 - Seafood & Heirloom Bean Minestra with 2010 Bastianich Malvasia Adriatico from Croatia
House made sausage, croutons and fresh tender seafood paired with 2010 Bastianich Malvasia Adriatico from grapes grown over the Italian border in Croatia. 100% Malvasia grapes loaded with orchard fruits (white peach, nectarine, apricot) and some non-fruits of white flowers and fennel with moderate acidity made specifically for seafood fare near the Adriatic Sea.
Course 2 - Porcini Tagliatelle and Soft Farm Egg with 2010 Bastianich Vespa Bianco from Venizia Giulia
A blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Picolit make up the Vespa Bianco blend sourced from vineyards in the Friuli region of Italy. Chef Everett complimented fresh pasta with forest mushrooms, house made pancetta, a warm egg and some black truffle shavings.
Course 3 - Herb Basted Beef Filet with 2007 La Mozza Aragone
Perhaps my favorite wine pairing. The 2007 Bastianich Aragone La Mozza is a "Super Tuscan" made with Sangiovese, Alicante and Syrah from a good vintage. Chef Everett did it up with rice, crispy chestnuts and wild nettle flan. The filet was served at the table with a warm jus or reduction sauce.
Course 4 - Pecorino Pepato with 2008 Bastianich Calabrone from Venezia Giulia
Calabrone is more of an Amarone-inspired wine from Venezia Giulia made from Refosco, Schippettino, Pignolo and Merlot using the Appassimento style that concentrates flavors. Chef Everett served it as an after dinner cheese course with date bread, honeycomb and black fruit jam.
There's a pretty good chance we'll be back at Cavallo point for the relaxing vibes, delicious food or stellar wine list. Even if none of those things existed, it would still be a historically rewarding place to spend an afternoon.