July 19-25, 2006

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First Bite

Buckeye Roadhouse

By Therese Nicol

Three years into my marriage, I realized I'd been bamboozled. With his perfect Arabic manners, my husband Hedi had been tricking me in a game I call Arabian Standoff. The object? Make the other guy take the last bite, no matter what. Push the plate back and forth, plead overfill, plead indigestion, plead anything, just get the other guy to take that last bite. Once I finally understood this simple game of etiquette, I got good at it. At our house, a standoff can last until the last dish reaches the drain board, empty, save for a lonely lamb chop, asparagus spear or scallop. The winner never takes all. Last week at the Buckeye Roadhouse in Mill Valley, I regretted my hasty victories.

My first refusal of the last tiger shrimp with gorgonzola cream ($11.95) was accepted immediately. Hedi took the fire-roasted artichoke with tarragon dip ($7.75) before first refusal. In round three, featuring a crab Louis ($17.95) with pristinely fresh butter lettuce and plenty of Dungeness, he accepted the final bite of avocado with only a half-hearted attempt to relinquish it. Then I, sucker that I am, gave him the lion's share when I split our skirt steak with caramelized onions ($18.50). He didn't make a peep!

There is a lot to like about the Buckeye Roadhouse. The food? It's delightful. The service? Yes. It's seamless, professional and genuinely friendly. The atmosphere is convivial and the seating is comfy. A glimpse into the kitchen tells a story of organization and cleanliness. I perused the 13 pages of interesting wines and creative cocktails and found myself pining for my wilder days. Cantaloupe martinis? Guava margaritas? Things have come a long way since the days of Martini and Rossi on ice. The deft engineering of the menu and wine list is impressive, placing the $36 Gloria Ferrer next to a $300 Dom Perignon.

Sidled up next to the $12 burger is a $30 filet mignon. There's a palate for everyone, and for every mood. Bring your carnivorous, your lactose intolerant, your vegetarian and your whiny whiner and they will eat. There are ribs and chicken and salads and a delicious-looking portobello lasagna ($15.50). Mondays feature wood-roasted prime rib, and on Sunday the brunch menu looks fantastic.

In case you're wondering how the game turned out, I got the last bite of the banana cream pie ($6.95). Sometimes, losing just feels like the right thing to do.

Buckeye Roadhouse, 15 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley. Open for lunch and dinner daily; Sunday brunch from 10:30am. 415.331.2600.

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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.