What is it about El Paseo, one of Marin County’s most beloved and iconic restaurants, that keeps both regulars and tourists coming back for more?
Is it its charismatic owner, the legendary Sammy Hagar, who can often be found in-house and at his adjoining The Passage Bar enjoying meticulously curated top-shelf cocktails made with spirits from his own label? Is it the intimate, European-like aesthetic of exposed brick, dark wood, and twinkle lights? Maybe it’s the #415 Happy Hour featuring $4 drafts, $1 bites, and $5 cocktails and wines? Or perhaps it’s simply the delicious food, currently prepared by the masterful Chef Todd Shoberg. Each component in its own right would portend a winner. Together, under the direction of new general manager Cassie Corless (formerly of Sausalito’s Copita) they create an irresistible aura of warmth that puts at ease all who enter. Let’s break it down:
To a certain generation, Sammy Hagar will forever be known as the Red Rocker and onetime front man for Van Halen. But to a generation raised on One Direction, Hagar is better known as that cool dude who owns rockin’ bars and restaurants around the country. He considers the stage his first love, but this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is equally at home in the restaurant world. His nine other restaurants and bars around the country, such as Sammy Hagar’s Red Rocker Bar & Grill in Memphis and Cabo Wabo locations including that in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, are tremendously popular. El Paseo provides his first foray into fine dining – and it suits him.
Enter the brick-paved walkway and find yourself transported. Crafted in the California Mission-style with ample use of tile and iron, the character is equally French, Italian, or Spanish. With The Passage bar on the left, and El Paseo to the right, guests may choose from a number of varied seating areas. Dine al fresco on the fire pit lit back patio, or escape to the coziness of one of the two charming dining rooms crafted of bricks rescued from San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Wood beams once served as rail ties for Mount Tam’s long forgotten East Peak gravity train. Hagar spared no expense in his 2011 remodel of El Paseo, utilizing reclaimed materials long before the practice trended.
El Paseo has featured the artistry of several chefs over the years, each placing his own stamp on the menu. New to the kitchen is current executive chef Todd Shoberg, formerly of Mill Valley’s lauded Molina. Shoberg lightens things up a bit from the former ‘chophouse’ style offerings, with an ingredient-driven, Northern California menu of local and seasonal ingredients. Dishes feature bold flavors and rustic preparations. While items change with the seasons, a few staples can be found, such as the outstanding burger with cheddar, basil aioli, heirloom tomatoes, and gem lettuce, an incredible double bone-in pork chop, and one of Shoberg’s favorite items – a daily risotto. Outstanding ‘shared’ items included, on this visit, avocado toast with smoked Mt. Lassen trout, market greens, and pickled jalapeno, a stone fruit and heirloom tomato salad, and knife cut steak tartare. There’s something for everyone on Shoberg’s menu – including a selection of hand crafted cocktails (don’t miss the barrel-aged Manhattan), varied wines, and draft beers from Northern California brewers.
Whether the trek is made for the food, the cocktails, the ambiance, or a chance to spy the Red Rocker himself, a first outing to El Paseo will likely never be the last. Such is the distinction of an icon.
El Paseo : 17 Throckmorton Ave. : Mill Valley
Dinner: 5:30 to 9:00pm Sunday through Thursday; 5:30 to 10:00pm Friday and 5:00 to 10:00pm Saturday.
Writer: Fran Endicott Miller
Fran is a Bay Area-based feature writer for a variety of web and print publications. With a passion for travel and dining, she enjoys exploring all things California (and beyond), and sharing her finds with readers.