July 26-August 1, 2006

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Arcadia 2006:
Bo Bo Ga Ga--welcome to Arcadia! | Community supported agriculture. So tasty, too. | Loving up the love apple. | At your service, our evil little guide to typecasting the staff. | Cooking school confidential: A recipe for fun. | Finnegan's Marin in Novato | Road food | Five summer fruits | Township terroir: Sense of taste, sense of place. | Sole food: Art walks, hikes and foot-forward outings. | Through a glass lightly--wine bars rage in the North Bay. | Far Niente Winery | Schug Carneros Estate Winery | Owl Ridge Wines

First Bite

Finnegan's Marin

By David Sason

The new Irish bar and restaurant Finnegan's Marin touts itself as the answer to Novato's lack of downtown flavor. Since the phrase "burgeoning revitalization" has been used to describe the Old Town area for years, I had to see this place for myself.

When we entered Finnegan's, we were warmly greeted by the pleasant, smiling staff. The unassuming tables and booths were nearly filled with diners of all ages, but I was surprised to see just a few pensive drinkers at the bar. In all fairness, though, it was a Sunday evening, and Italy was that day's big World Cup winner, not Ireland.

We sat at a cafe-style table at the back patio, relishing the serene breeze and our bubbly waitress' welcoming energy. When we inquired about specials, she charmingly replied, "Everything on our menu is special." We began with baskets of perfectly spicy Irish potato poppers ($4) and crispy calamari ($8), served with yummy tarragon and tomato aioli pepperoncini cream sauces.

Though the appetizers were a hit, my cola was flat and our glasses of water remained unfilled for too many minutes. I would have complained but was distracted by the constantly slamming gate next to us, apparently the regular trash-emptying route. I had almost blocked it out when I heard knocking from the other side. After I let in the thankful employee, I went to write it down but found it difficult with all the remaining empty dishes (which sat unbussed until just before dessert).

These were all minor infractions, but my order of fish and chips ($15) was at least a misdemeanor. When I took a bite of the fish, something important was missing—the taste. Surprisingly, my companion's flat-iron steak ($16) was better, supplemented by a delicious heap of perfectly-spiced Yukon mashed potatoes. (Somewhere, there's an Irish joke about potatoes that fits, but I thank them for salvaging my entrČe.)

With plenty of room for dessert (in my stomach, not on our table), we ordered both the perfectly tender cappuccino mousse cake ($5) and the locally made Three Twins organic vanilla ice cream ($5), alleged by the menu to be smothered in raspberry sauce. When it arrived, our watering mouths dried up at the sight of a brown caramel sauce. Astonishingly, our waitress offered a small cup of raspberry sauce instead of a replacement dessert, so we made due with what was still superbly nonorganic tasting.

While devouring the cake's last crumbs, I nearly fell out of my seat, startled when a disgruntled young waiter stormed out the back gate, slamming it the hardest of all the many slams we cringed against that night. We decided to pass on coffee, pay the bill and try to enjoy the evening breeze from my car's windows.

Finnegan's Marin still has a long way to go in terms of providing pleasant neighborhood dining. Though a down-home bar and grill would be fantastic for Grant, sometimes casual dining can be too casual.

Finnegan's Marin, 877 Grant Ave., Novato. Open for lunch and dinner daily. 415.225.7495.

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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.