February 14-20, 2007

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First Bite


By Alastair Bland

There's no pissing off the exceptional waiter at Cork, Sausalito's premier wine and tapas bar. We didn't mean to, but we tested him. We took ages deciding what to get, mispronounced the French names on the menu, retracted and changed our orders, and through it all our man, a tall and soft-spoken fellow, wouldn't stop smiling.

He started us off with a glass of wine each, the Kendric Vineyards 2004 Syrah ($12) and the 2003 Corbiere ($9). The Syrah boasted an excellent finish, smooth as a polished oak, while the Corbiere was a bit tart around the edges. Perhaps a properly placed cheese or chocolate could have smoothed it out. Anyway, what you can expect for nine bucks a glass?

My party of two began with the sweet date crostini ($6), four small baguette slices spread thickly with rich mascarpone cheese, chopped dates and clover honey, all arranged on a vast white plate. The appetizer was a faultless combo of sugary sweetness, slight sourness and the crunch of toasted bread.

To follow we ordered the Brussels sprouts salad ($9), a dainty little heap of greenery and pecorino cheese. Where I come from, any salad with neither nuts nor avocado has (a) got some serious explaining to do or (b) needs to think extra hard about its dressing. But this indolent little plate came drizzled with only lemon juice and ground pepper. We finished it with six swipes of the fork and pushed onward into the night.

Next came truffled goat cheese fondue ($10), a smart little setup of melted cheese in a mug mounted on a wire rim over a burning candle and ringed with apple slices and bread for dipping. Tasting faintly of earth, smoke and must, the cheese had indeed been truffled.

We called now for the avocado, pesto and three cheese panini ($8), then changed our minds and cancelled the order five minutes after the sandwich went in the oven. Anyone else would have been annoyed, but our fine waiter remained seemingly happy and pleased.

I told him we'd rather go with the artisan cheese sampler ($18), along with a glass of 2003 Sutton Cellars Pinot Noir ($10). He got busy arranging this dish, the greatest concentration of nourishment available at Cork. He delivered it minutes later with a gracious bow, and we gazed in awe over the deluxe spread of Spanish goat cheese, Vermont cheddar, Marin triple crème, Dutch Gouda and Italian Gorgonzola, all of which shared the plate with bread, almonds, dried apricots, cranberries and prunes.

The afternoon had slipped into the evening, and the Saturday-night crowd began to trickle in the door. The bar filled up and the cool, dark interior began to come alive. With our bellies crammed with cheese and a bike ride across the bridge still in store for us, it was time to pay the bill and go. Our dignified waiter had been remarkably hospitable, so we tipped him well.

I hope it didn't come off as cheap or garish of us.

Cork Enoteca, 317 Johnston St. (at Bridgeway), Sausalito. Open Wednesday-Monday, 4-11pm. 415.332.2975.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.